Sep 28, 2012

One Horticulturalist Needed......

In February there was an ad that was seen in a horticultural website that was looking for a horticulturalist to be involved in a project for a period of a few months. The job piqued my interest and even though the description was very, very vague, I applied.  To my surprise, I was called for an interview and was told to meet at a warehouse in North London.  The interview was with a company called Filmscapes,  who makes gardens for film, television, and advertisements.
  I was still not told what the project was exactly for, it was all so secretive, but I was very excited and was hired at the end of the interview.

       This  project it turned out, was that I was working with them on creating the opening scene for  the Opening Ceremony for the  London 2012 Olympics.  It was a thought that I couldn't process. If you have no idea what this map is, don't worry, it took me a while to figure it out too, but I was in disbelief still.
    Even though my position was as horticulturalist, I helped and worked on anything that needed to be done. We worked in this warehouse in Northeast London mapping out what we needed to do. It started with astroturf and plenty of it.  The opening scene was called 'Green and Pleasant Land' and it involved a mix of real and faux plants.   We took the astroturf and measured and cut out the shapes for the scene, which was then given treatments.
 We then proceeded to make it look real by shearing it, painting it, and 

even  adding small plastic plants to look like weeds for height and interest.
    Spending hours each day in a warehouse cutting astroturf and consuming cup after cup of tea, and chocolate, can make you a bit crazy. That is when  'Turfie' , our mascot, was born.
    But while we were furiously finishing all the turf that was needed (over the course of 3 months), the stage was being built inside the stadium. Once that was complete, and our turf was finished, we  moved on site, inside the Olympic Stadium.My eyes were huge with excitement at the size of it all,

The base for the mountain, or the Tor, was just getting finished a day after we moved on site.
    Once done, the huge faux Oak tree was hoisted above the Tor and we set to work attaching our meadow turf which was to cover the whole of it. Capillary matting was put down first to add a layer that would hold moisture for the roots, followed by chicken wire, and then squares of meadow turf.

All those yellow high-vis are the team turfing up the Tor, which gives you an idea of the immense scale of the structure.
     Once completed,  the newly turfed Tor gave life to our surroundings, becoming the dominant feature in the stadium. This put many smiles on the faces of the people working there.

       The real mixed hedgerows, which would be used on the stage as props were then unloaded, making my heart beat faster and my grin grow wider.  My role as horticulturalist was now coming into play and that made my work even more exciting. First the Tor and now over 100 hedgerows.

    There were also live turf too that was going to be used on the stage for the performance.  These were all for an area we called 'Essex' which was going to have real sheep were grazing on it during the Opening Ceremony. 
       Each piece was  on  a growing mat with handles to make removal easier for the cast during the change from one scene to the next.  Add that to more live pieces of material for me to care for.
 There were a mix of real and faux plant material used throughout, as seen here with fellow colleagues mixing artificial poppies into the real dried wheat used to create a field.

    One of the workers on the roof supplied this aerial shot of our work from above, an incredible sight to see for all the hard work we were doing. This now made the map (first image) I first came across pale in comparison to the stage being dressed like this.

     Each day at work consisted of watering, watering, and making sure that everything was staying alive and healthy.  Each day consisted of carting heavy hose wheels back and forth to water, truly doing laps all over the stadium.  The view from the top of the Tor was incredible where one could survey all the action taking place all around. The action was happening on the Tor too though,

with the meadow coming into effect after a few weeks of care,

and being witness to seeing such vibrant flowers carpet the turf, like the yellow blooms of Lotus corniculatus.

                     At the end of another 11 hour day, I was able to see the Tor lit up at night.

       The work didn't stop there though. A wildflower meadow mix was installed all around the stage, which was to grow on a slant of 45 degrees, again on a layer of capillary matting, on wood. 
This wrapped all the way around the stage itself. Each day this was watered, sometimes twice a day, and over time it went from spindly looking, 

to a thicker,

and more lush planting.

         There were Layia platyglossa, Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), Papaver commutatum, Escholzia californica, and Sweet Alyssum, among others.

Every few days  the wildflower verge

was changing it's colors.

     A few days before August 27th, we installed the 'Athletes Area' which was real turf that ran the whole length around the stage.
     Capillary matting helps once again with helping to hold water, but this area did dry out quickly and required constant attention.
     Once it was all laid out, it looked beautiful. The stadium was beginning to soften due to all of the plant vegetation inside.

There was an area outside of the stadium too, that had some pieces that were to be kept in top condition. Due to the many rehearsals, some of the plant material started to break down and deteriorate from being handled many times.  So outside of the stadium there was a 'nursery' for the showstoppers come the night of the Opening Ceremony. This was a wonderful mix of wildflower meadow mixes and turf.  Watering was definitely a full time job. 

       This whole area was on plastic sheeting, directly on pavement, and it seemed like the week before the big night, England decided to have a heat wave. Why? Why? WHY?!!! lol
In total one day, I watered, for about 14  hours. My hard work, (and prune-like fingers!), was documented luckily by some newspapers and news channels that were filming the excitement happening in the Olympic park.

      We worked 18 hours the night before trying to do as much work as possible, but it was worth it when Paul McCartney is practicing in front of you. I remember singing to 'Hey Jude' while watering at around midnight, not too bad of a memory. Coming in the next day was rough but you are running on adrenaline by that point and how do you stop the Opening Ceremony?! You don't, and that kept you running too.... The covering of the molten troughs with real turf here.

      And then it started, once you saw the cloud walkers, we knew there was no turning back, there was no stopping the Opening Ceremony.  It has began!

     The people just filled up the stadium,  around 80,000 total, and the set looked so real with all the characters and props on it.

The flock of sheep coming to the stage to graze on our meadow.....

The ladies with the geese...... (and the hedgerows!!!)
It all came together!!
           It was an unforgettable experience because I also had the chance to be in it. I didn't really know what to do, so I walked around and I sat in the apple orchard, which was full of fake apples.  I snuck a real apple on stage with me which I pulled out of my pocket, which I then proceeded to eat.  As I sat there, I just remember taking it all in, the energy, the people,  and it was just incredible, and I sat there and thought,'I am sitting on the stage at the Olympic Opening Ceremony,  we did an outstanding job, all plants were kept alive and I am eating an apple in front of the Queen.......... This is pretty damn cool." lol
 Looking back I was able to quickly spot myself in the first few minutes on screen.  I decided to stand and watch the cricket game since it was the easiest place to hide. I was wearing the dark outfit standing next to the fence in the upper right.

Green and Pleasant it was......

Until the Brunel's (standing on the Tor!!).....

came and changed things (good bye set!)

into the Industrial Revolution.....(but look at those flowers!!!!lol)

It was an emotional night that I will never forget.  I was touched that England would let a recent New York transplant be so involved with their London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. Thank you!!
To see so many flags of the world on the Tor, which I had such a bond with, was one of  happiest moments of the evening.
         I still get emotional when I think about it, since it was the most intense project I have ever had in my life. It took me so long to write about it because it was so personal, it demanded so much, and it was so passionate, it was such a build up for months and then just as quickly it was over..... just like that, almost a dream. I will never ever forget the joy this experience gave me, and the pride and  confidence in myself as a person and gardener.  It will always be a place in my mind that burns so bright,
and I always have my memories that I will take with me........