As you enter Baldhorns Park, in Sussex, the first thing you notice is the shimmer of the smooth lake that spans out across the garden, highlighting and reflecting the gleam of the modern sculptures dotted informally around. Sculptress Allison Armour-Wilson puts her fascination with water down to being a Piscean; and it was the love of silvery and serpentine forms, she says, that drew her to sculpture. Some time after a storm had blown down a number of trees in her garden, creating open space around her previously enclosed home, Allison went looking for some sleek modern water sculptures to furnish her acres. Finding none to suit, she set about designing and commissioning her own, which eventually led to the thriving business she runs today. Inspired partly by the simple lines and reflective surface of the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, her pieces combine the classical and the modern.
One hurdle was finding anyone willing to make her pieces. American born, Allison was surprised at the chauvinism and inertia she encountered to begin with. Makers either said they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, work with her, but eventually a local company listened and her first piece, the ‘garden chaise’, was born. A clear, perspex, single piece lounger, it has all the clarity and fluidity of a ribbon of water. Situated by the lake, it is almost invisible against the stone, sky and yellow skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus).
The house is a red brick farmhouse with a south facing terrace. It is here, where nature meets architecture, that her most popular water feature is situated. This is the Aquasphere, a clear globe of hollow perspex which fills up with water that flows. over the sides, hugging the surface. If run at a slow speed, the water reflects a clear picture of the sky and land around it; at a faster speed, it creates a hypnotic continuous ripple of changing light. In winter, the water can be run to create a dramatic ice sculpture; in autumn, the globes catch the setting sun and become ripe with an orange glow. Allison explains with amusement that ‘it took ages to find the right size in the right material. Eventually, we found the globes in an Italian car park, being used as lamps.’
After making the Aquasphere, Allison was encouraged by a friend to send in photographs of her work to magazines. They responded well and within two years Allison had her own website and commissions from America and Dubai, as well as garden design work stemming from her award winning entry at the Chelsea Flower Show last year. Her sculpture collection is growing. In a pasture to the north of the house are the Double Cs, fat semi-circular slices of mirrored polycarbonate, flexible enough to give them a smooth curve and reflective enough to show the changing seasons. At first, they seem outsize and unsuitable for average gardens. The first clients for these, however, lived in a house with a typical suburban sized garden and appreciated how this Iow maintenance feature doubled the effect of their planting. Allison’s obelisks, made from the same material, are subtle markers, exciting modern interpretations of classic stone features. An added benefit of 21st century materials is that they are light enough to move about. This flexibility enables the garden to change vistas and provide focus or distraction. In bluebell season, Allison places her Double C’s in the wood, accentuating the shock of the blue.
Her greatest fans are the locals. ‘Deer come up to peer at their reflections and the birds love to watch themselves washing by the obelisk.’ The drive to find a modern water sculpture came from the walled garden which previously “”had a pool at its centre. It has since become a series of terraces with a parterre filled with tulips and roses. In spring, it is a riot of red and purple plain and parrot tulips, which make way for Rosa ga/lico ‘Versicolor’, bourbons and moss roses. Clambering up the walls are more red and pink roses, interspersed with C/ematis a/pina and Clematis macropeta/a. A hedge on one side leads down to the secret garden of the Armour-Wilsons’ seven year old daughter, Juliet, which has a path of daisy shaped stepping stones leading to an enclosure bounded by castellated yew. Serendipity and harmony typify Allison and her work. The balance of nature and sculpture proves that with imagination, modern ideas and materials can work out to be as timeless as classical ones.