Diamond Jubilee Pageant

Sunday 3rd June 2012

Over night, there is heavy rain and 30 mph winds – not ideal conditions for flowers and plants on a Barge. Kitty and I rush down to Cadogan Pier, where the Barge has been moved overnight, to see what damage has been done. Mercifully, there is very little so we both breathe a huge sigh of relief and spend the rest of the morning cleaning up and waving at passing boats and helicopters. It’s a wonderful feeling standing on the Royal Barge seeing all the other barges passing by. The other boats need to get upstream of the Royal Barge so we have a mini Pageant all to ourselves. Finally, the time for us to leave arrives. It’s the end of a magnificent adventure. We step off the pier to see thousands and thousands of people lining the Embankment. It’s going to be a great day and both Kitty and I, and all the team at Crocus, are very proud to have played a small part in it.

Saturday 2nd June 2012

Our last day. We all arrive early because we know that we have a lot to do. The forecast is not good but we have no option but to carry on. We split into teams – some hanging garlands, some planting the ‘E’ lantern, some finishing the knot gardens and some preparing yet more greenery. (My daughter Alice, who helped throughout the project, worked out that she spent 34 hours preparing greenery!). I have a wobble when one of the Police sniffer dogs inadvertently walks across some of our planting but we soon sort it out. The team senses the finishing line and rises to the challenge. We are all tired and have been working 12 hour days but no-one mutters a word. People come on board and gasp at the garlands and the plants. It’s difficult to believe that so much can be achieved in such a short time.
By 7.00pm it’s all done. The Spirit of Chartwell has been turned into Royal Barge fit for a Queen. The detailing all over the boat, masterminded by Joseph Bennett, is wonderful. With a heavy heart we say goodbye to the wonderful team from Pershore. For some of the students working on the Barge, this was their first project. What a start to their floristry career!

Friday 1st June 2012

We are now up to nearly 50 on site. There is a real buzz about the place with our team plus the team building the thrones and all the other decorations working hard. The site is being managed by Dominic Hyman who has a calm professionalism about him. So far, everyone has got on really well. We know that the final day is getting very close because a whole lot of police divers arrive to check the hull of the ship.
The rose and paeonies and placed on the garlands by Kitty and her team. They are beautiful and the team has done a wonderful job. Pete Clay comes to help with the planting with Rachel and Lou, the producer from Gardener’s World. Graham Hoyle and his team arrive from Crocus to complete the knot garden and by the end of the day we have placed 10 garlands into position. I confess to have an emotional moment seeing them going into place. 6 months of planning has gone into this moment.

Thusday 31st May 2012

Sunday is creeping towards us very quickly. Yet more flowers arrive from various suppliers around the country. David Austin deliver some wonderful roses (Munstead Wood and Darcy Bussell), Taylors deliver daffodils in full flower (not bad for the end of May!), and the rest of the herbaceous plants come up from the Crocus nursery. Kitty and her team have nearly completed all the greenery and start placing the carnations and greenery on the gardlands. They are beginning to look fantastic. We decide to plant up two of the lanterns. Rachel de Thame, who has been responsible for developing the floral design for the Barge, comes to help set out all the plants. Our first decision is that the lavenders (Munstead) are sitting too high in their pots. The only solution is to cut off the bottom of the plants. Not necessarily the best horticultural practice but needs must!
By the end of the day, two of the lanterns are nearly complete. I am genuinely concerned that the wind conditions on the Thames might be severe, so we decide to glue down every plant. Even though I have built 23 gardens at Chelsea, I can safely say that I have never glued a plant down before! We finish work at 8.00pm. We are working long days but everyone seems up for the challenge. The excitement of working on a project of this magnitude keeps us going.

Wednesday 30th May 2012

The carnations arrive for the garlands. The floristry team seem to be getting on really well. There are now 40 Crocus people on site all working about 12 hours a day on flowers and plants. We are being really well fed by Charlotte Deacon and Harriet Combes who bring us delicious food everyday. There are no shops within a couple of miles so it’s impossible to go out and buy a few sandwiches. The Barge is really beginning to take shape. City and Guilds have been doing a fantastic job on the prow of the ship and the colours of gold, purple and red are really showing through.
We decide to start on the knot garden at the stern of the Barge. We have already prepared the plants in advance at the Crocus nursery but it takes a while to get it looking right.

Tuesday 29th May 2012

Whilst the floristry team carry on preparing all the greenery for the 70 garlands, we take delivery of the first wave of plants for the deck. There are five main sections on the deck and we have to plant all of them. I’m reluctant to start straight away because its windy and hot and I don’t want to expose the plants too early. We have to be careful, about watering on deck because all the planting beds, or lanterns as they are called, are covered in velvet and it musn’t get wet.

Monday 28th May 2012

The serious works starts today. I don’t need the alarm to wake me up, even though it’s 5.00am. I was keen to make sure that everything goes smoothly at Covent Garden Market so on my way to the Docks I go by Covent Garden to ensure that our pick-up of all the greenery for the garlands is going smoothly. I arrive to find the very reliable Nick, one of our drivers, busy loading up with rhododendron, lavender, hebe etc. I arrive at the Docks to gulp down a cup of tea before the florists turn up. I have asked Kitty Arden to help me on the project so she has organised the floristry team. In addition to her own florists, she has organised lots of floristry students and their tutors from Pershore College to help.
When they arrive, Kitty and I give them a brief introduction. We have to get quite serious about not allowing them to take any photographs of the Barge. I really don’t want any photographs appearing on Facebook. That would be really embarrassing. The team, all decked out in their special Crocus/Jubilee polo shirts, get stuck in to preparing greenery.

Kitty and Mark brief the troops

The foliage arrives

Arne Maynard's garden for Laurent Perrier

Arne Maynard's garden for Laurent Perrier

Friday 25th May 2012

We arrive in Docklands where the barge has been moved for the fit-out. The Pageant team have chosen a derelict warehouse on the docks which is quiet and secluded. It’s so quiet and secluded that we get lost but finally find it hidden behind an enormous evacuated mill, called Millennium Mills. There is something surreal about working on the Queen’s barge surrounded by all this Victorian decay but the location is ideal. We have lots of space and it’s quite cold inside so they flowers will love it. Our objective is to get all the tables set up for the arrival of everyone on Monday. Quite quickly we have the kettle on and we get to work.