13 April 2023 :
The Jewel in the Crown
John Colton gave a well received talk about his career as a water specialist, from beginnings as a part time water bailiff, helping with river management, to the work with his company "Kingcombe Aquacare". He discussed the different divisions of the company which became a global specialist in water services - consultancy, maintenance, environmental work, waterscapes for high net clients, and his aquatic plant nursery.
John talked us through how, through a fortuitous afternoon tea with his mother, he ended up meeting the owners of Summer Lodge Hotel in Evershot who then gave him a significant 3 month contract to convert an old ditch and lower lawn into a fantastic stream flowing into a lake with a green oak jetty.
With other global projects under his belt, he landed a contract at Wisley in 2000 to renovate the SevenAcre Lakes which had significant problems. As well as leaking water, the fish had been breaking down the banks and Wisley were losing marginal plants. The team drained the lake, but had to hide any of the construction solution with sympathetic styling - they built a stone wall around the banks with a cock and hen topper. John told us how an existing sculpture of Cranes which had been positioned on a lawn area close to the lakes was moved to a platform in the lake. His team even made sure there is a constant movement around the Crane's feet to give the illusion that they are dancing!
The company moved on to The Lily Canal, initially designed by Sir Edwin Lutyen. Again the pond had been losing water which was proving expensive to keep topped up. With a Grade 1 listed landscape to renovate, John didn't want to destroy the lawns either side of the Canal with heavy machinery. They had to come up with solutions to hide the rubber membrane from sight, as well as covering the base of the pond liner with slabs to protect it from the gardener's boots. The liner edging was covered with lead flashing to ensure it remained in keeping with the building aesthetics.
The main part of John's talk focused on the RHS's request to build a new state of the art greenhouse to mark the RHS Bi-Centenary. £7.7m has been raised to create a semi-circular reflective lake re-using run off water from the new greenhouse. John took us through the considerable problems with the siting of the greenhouse and lake. A high water table and soft moving wet sands did not provide a stable base for the greenhouse. The team had to use piling equipment to build solid aggregate cores on which to sit the greenhouse.
A Dutch company constructed the greenhouse from flat glass panels which bent through the weight of the glass to create the curved effect. Apparently, only 1 pane of glass was broken in the construction process.
In June 2006, John and his team returned to finish the lake, overcoming the challenge of the high water table - trying to keep a consistent water level 365 days through wet winters and hot summers.
Some sophisticated drains and pumps were built in to ensure the water levels remain constant. From an aesthetics perspective, the liner was covered with subsoil and green oak was used around the edge. Even this timber cladding proved a problem - how to fix without putting holes through the liner!
Inside the greenhouse, the rock was created artificially from moulds and paint effects, and John was responsible for the cascade into the Tropical Lily Pond. With a risk of legionella from warm water vapours, they had to construct a plant room to cleanse and filter the water. This is hidden beneath the cascade!
In June 2007, Tom Stuart-Smith planted around the lake and John was there for the official opening by the late Queen Elizabeth. He chuckled when he remembered how nervous he was in making sure the cascade started flowing as soon as Her Majesty entered the room!!
A fascinating talk on overcoming the challenges of constructing water features on a big scale!