Guest blogger Kirsti Davies, creator of Kew’s unique Tea Party table, writes about the creative and practical process of building the installation.
My intention behind creating the Tea Party table was to portray botanical information in a fun and theatrical way. The table is meant to be a feast for the eyes which also entices visitors to learn more about the plants that make the food products we all come into contact with every day.
The Rose Garden Tea Party, located next to the Palm House (Photo: Kirsti Davies)
The table focuses on the wonders of the edible plants that make up a quintessential British tea party. Each of the 40 table settings is themed around a dish which might be served at a tea party including Earl Grey and Lady Grey tea, strawberry jam, honey, mustard, chutney, piccalilli, and many more. We've even thrown in a few 'mad-hatter'-esque settings, such as edible weeds and flowers, and some with a patriotic British tinge: edible plants with royal names; and the national plants of the UK (Welsh leek, English rose, Scottish thistle and Northern Irish flax).
It's been a brilliant adventure designing and making the table and over 30 people helped me produce it, so it's definitely been a team effort.
Laying the table
The china is all hand-decorated. With the help of Stokes Croft China in Bristol, we sourced the finest English bone china white-ware from Staffordshire, some of it twenty to forty years old and in shapes and designs no longer manufactured. We used a mixture of botanical illustrations from Kew's archive, our own hand-drawn illustrations, riddles and rhymes and fired them onto plates and tea cups to bring the table alive.
Hand-painted china on the tea table (Photo: Kirsti Davies)
It was a challenging process to produce a unique design for every single item on the table. Another tricky part was drilling holes into the china pieces as they needed to be screwed to the table top. Unbelievably, I didn't lose a single piece. Bone china is surprisingly strong - English fine bone china must contain 50% bone ash. The glaze on the china is often transparent, so the colour of china is the colour of the clay and bone. It's been an amazing medium to work with and I hope you can tell that we've taken a lot of time and effort over sourcing and handcrafting everything.
Crafting the table and chairs
The table and chairs are also hand-crafted using green oak, a substantial and beautiful wood to work with, and FSC certified. The table changes every day because the oak is slowly drying and turning from gold to silver in the sun.
Installing the table. Under the tabletop is a hidden layer of soil (photo: Kirsti Davies)
So far the table has been a big hit, which makes all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile. It's been brilliant working with Kew, especially the Horticulture team, who I am completely in awe of for keeping the tea plants growing in the UK.
So whether you're a connoisseur of hand-decorated English china, appreciative of traditional carpentry techniques, or a student of botanical illustration, there is something at the table to entertain everyone. Make sure you pay a visit before the end of the summer. Mad hatter tea party hats and costumes not obligatory - but heavily encouraged!
To find out more about the table and how we made it check out www.incrEdibleteaparty.co.uk
Rose Garden tea party
Come to Kew’s tea party! See a huge variety of different edible plants, growing out of beautiful plates, goblets, dishes, jugs and platters.
- When - Saturday 25 May until 3 November
- Where is the Rose Garden Tea Party? - The Rose Garden Tea Party is in the Rose Garden, behind the Palm House - Plan your visit with the IncrEdibles Voyage map (pdf)
Week by week horticulturalists, botanists and attractions organisers from all around Kew Gardens wrote for this special IncrEdibles blog, describing behind-the-scenes experiences and sharing insights into the amazing world of edible plants.
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