MRS Award winning exhibit at ‘The Witness’ Garden Show – by Gail Birss

MRS Award winning exhibit at ‘The Witness’ Garden Show – by Gail Birss
Floral arch at Garden Show
The floral arch ‘entrance’ to the exhibit. Photo-Susan von Zuilekom

The theme for this year’s Witness Garden Show was ‘Articulture”.  I googled it to see what that meant. Briefly, is using plants and flowers in different types of arrangements to create some form of art. But what to do?? Then I thought about the Royal wedding (Meghan and Harry’s) and that magnificent arch outside the church at Windsor Castle. We had to recreate that and of course with weddings, you do use flowers in different ways.

A sub-committee was formed with Susan von Zuilekom, Dawn Pellew, Louise Arthur and Mary-Anne Elstob and they all agreed that a wedding was our answer. Susan spent hours on her computer, ‘photo-shopping’ old churches and then painstakingly putting photos of roses from her garden to create the arch. She created a masterpiece!!

I contacted Flamingo Flowers in Kenya and they once again donated 2500 roses!!! Elizabeth Thornton-Dibb agreed to transport the roses from Johannesburg to Maritzburg on the Tuesday, collecting them from the South African agent in Krugersdorp as well as fetching more greenery from the Johannesburg market.


I contacted member, Sandra Tretheway from Farmgirl Flowers in Wartburg and asked if she would like to join the sub-committee. She agreed.

While we were debating where and how we would build the floor, she suggested doing it on their farm. From then on things changed and only got better and better!!

We have for years done everything when preparing our stand, from sawing wood, hammering in nails, building walls, plastering walls, fetching, carrying, pushing, pulling. You name it, we did it! Sandra Tretheway arrived with her staff who did all these things for us. I suggested a small ‘hanging thing that they have at weddings’ over the table. Sandra asked why just over the table but why not over the whole stand and so it was made on the farm, brought to the show, and hung up.

We arranged the flowers all around the edges and in the centre with the 2 sides draped. Her staff then hoisted this huge steel contraption up. She also supplied us with more foliage, more roses and more flowers.

So many members arrived to arrange the stand and when it was completed, it took your breath away. It was magnificent!!! The public loved it, we loved it and as Nancy Gardiner said, “For impact you should have got 38 out of 35!”.  But the remarks and accolades we received were wonderful. As well as receiving a Gold Medal for our exhibit, we won the People’s Choice by a huge majority!!

My thanks to everyone involved in creating this masterpiece, but especially to Susan for her backdrop and Sandra for her huge contribution. A magnificent team effort!!

Gail Birss


Back at Garlington

Back at Garlington
Jackie Kalley owner/editor at Otterley Press,
Jackie Kalley owner/editor at Otterley Press,

Jackie Kalley, recent recipient of the Zoë Gilbert Award for outstanding service to world of roses, gives her eloquent and often humorous account of the development of the Garlington Heritage Rose garden.  Follow her blogs over the next few months to stay in touch with the progress of this incredible project to conserve the old roses of the KZN Midlands. You can join in the fun by contacting Gail Birss (see the Midlands Rose Society Page) or contact us via



20170704_100319_resized (002)The Bobcat smudged the borders of our carefully calculated beds so tape measures at the ready, we met on site. The real allure of the morning was the prospect of a  vision coming to fruition. The arches and their side struts were piled in the centre of the garden – an innocuous pile of metal with the potential to transform the garden. We sorted out the paths into the garden (once again!) while Gill and Gail talked earnestly on the tactics of arch construction; there was more measuring and with the capable help of Voyo, holes were dug, the side struts erected and suddenly nuts and bolts were called for and the arch was fixed in place.


No concrete was used as roses don’t care for concrete. Excitingly our entrance tunnel of six arches followed the master plan; the side arches went up quickly as our tactics were by now perfected but the three-arched exit caused consternation. The two  entrance/exit gates were not identically opposite each other ! In fact there was a 90 cm difference made all the more acute as the centre of the gate was then not the centre of the arch and the long run of string from one gate to the other revealed just how badly out of sync it was. Eventually we decided the arches had to be exactly opposite each other and to call in the fencing firm to move the gate…  otherwise they would have been forever out of kilter and spoilt the whole design. The bad gremlin continued to wreak havoc.

The ground on that side was so hard  the bottom horizontal on the strut was bent ; Gail was wheezing from her bout of flu and shouldn’t have been there at all so we gazed in awe at our twelve arches standing proud and left the last three in the dust for next time.

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Ludwig’s driver (from Ludwig’s Roses – one of our sponsors) offloaded a treasure trove of roses,  now in safe custody until we can plant them but we can’t do that until the irrigation pipes have been installed. When will that be? Why is one thing always contingent on yet another??