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A Jolly Nice Trip to the UK

Rebecca Vizard of B. Viz Design jumps the pond to visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, unearth some antique textiles, visit friends, and stimulate the senses

Editor’s Note: Rebecca Vizard, founder of B. Viz Design, sources beautiful handmade, antique, and vintage textiles worldwide. (Her vintage suzani pieces were used throughout the Flower Showhouse at Brierfield Farm.) During her recent trip to the UK, she served as our eyes and ears at the 2021 Chelsea Flower Show, which took place in the fall instead of spring due to the pandemic.

After being grounded by the pandemic for far too long, I finally jumped the pond for the first time in two years to visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, unearth some antique textiles, visit friends, and basically stimulate the five senses. Upon arriving in the city, I was elated to see that the businesses around London were festooned with flowers in honor of the event.

The Chelsea Flower Show’s magic is hard to capture in photos. It is like the Cirque du Soleil of horticulture and creativity, a carnival of color and cleverness. Inspiration is everywhere! Some of the highlights for me were the Begonia blooms the size of salad plates and Streptocarpus ‘Polka-Dot Purple’ from South Africa.

The Streptocarpus grows similarly to an African Violet but with larger, more grandiose blooms.

The delightful dahlias are always showstoppers. The burgundy striped variety was abundant in Monet’s garden at Giverny last time I visited.

The army of Allium was breathtaking, and one could detect the onion scent before we even discovered them. I was fascinated by the arrangements wrapped in kraft paper and tied with jute with a spray of bamboo-like greenery sprouting from the bottoms.

And topiaries! Who doesn’t smile when they see nature sculpted into playful models?

The life-size moss figure of pure garden joy captured how I feel when playing in my garden. I smiled so big my mask momentarily blinded me.

When I saw this dried flower skull with the corn teeth, I almost squealed. (I secretly have a thing for creepy-cool).

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The Shops

Being the consummate seeker of the unusual and with steadfast stamina, I had to visit the shops and couldn’t resist the ikat sneakers from the adorable Alice (below, left) who founded World Secrets in England. There were many other wonderful vendors, but there was no time for photos as we were running out of time.

Eponine

Just when I was thinking my creativity could not be further sparked, I met the most lovely and talented Jet Shenkman (below, right), founder of Eponine London. Jet and I seem to be living parallel lives on two different continents: She designs the most chic and unique couture dresses using antique and vintage textiles, and she now works with her daughter as well.

We bonded over our love of textiles and craftsmanship, as well as our entrepreneurial stories. She recalled the time a guest wore a bespoke Eponine Hmong dress to one of the Royal weddings a few years ago. The dress, fabricated from an exquisite textile handmade by Hmong artisans in northern Thailand, became a sensation in the Thai media and drew worldwide attention to the artisans’ crafts. Before Jet knew it, the Thai government invited her to Bangkok to open a big trade fair.

Hearing this anecdote from Jet solved a mystery for me—I remember when the price of these beautiful textiles skyrocketed, though I did not know why at the time. We both were beaming as she told the story because it is so important to celebrate artisans and their incredible skills. Sadly, many of these skills are dying out due to fast fashion and cheap machine-made imitations.

Battersea Park

The Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair at Battersea Park was just starting on our last day in London. I met the most entertaining character, and it is obvious why I was drawn to him (see his cap in the photo below). Patrick Inglis Hall, whose booth was one of my favorites, was a hilarious delight. His wife, Diddie, has taken classes at the Royal School of Needlework and is an expert in the art of trapunto. She handstitched Patrick’s whimsical cap for his 70th birthday present, and I could not stop studying her other masterpieces that were proudly displayed in his booth.

Dinner at The Ivy

Afterward, my traveling companions and I met the adorable Serena Crawford, the renowned South African designer, for a late dinner at The Ivy Chelsea Garden which is always a lively scene. The food was almost as good as the conversation, and there was plenty of design drama to feast our eyes upon.

The Cotswolds

The following morning, we left for a quick visit to the Cotswolds, where we stayed at a superb hotel (or almost mini-village) in Gloucestershire called Thyme.

The architecture and interior design were sublime. There was a bit of a relaxed, elegant Belgian vibe with the juxtaposition of authentic age and clean lines. The atmosphere felt comfortable but chic. The three of us had our own cozy cottage with stylish British flair. The Ox Barn for dinner was a visual and scrumptious treat. I cannot wait to go back when I have more “thyme.” Ha—couldn’t help myself!

Next, we toured Highgrove, Prince Charles’s wonderful and fascinating garden. (For a glimpse behind the hedges, see Flower‘s story  “The Majesty of Highgrove Gardens.”) Afterward, our driver took us on a tour of the beautiful countryside and some of the charming villages.

Farewell

This wonderful trip filled my heart with gratitude for the beauty in this world. I was thirsty for happy events, inspiring sights, and enlightenment, and the UK did not disappoint. The British taxi drivers were bountiful, professional, and kind. Before earning their license, they must ace an intense course known as the “Knowledge of London.” It obviously works—the drivers immensely enhanced our enjoyment of the city. Thank you, London taxi drivers!

Text and photography by Rebecca Vizard