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A magical shell grotto by a gardener favoured by the A list

A magical shell grotto by a gardener favoured by the A list

Kensington Leverne

If you wander the grounds of the Talbot Hotel in Malton, North Yorkshire, you might just come across a surprise. Hidden away amongst the greenery is a shady spot for evening drinks or a cool respite – a shell house created by gardener Charlie Day. Charlie is something of an under-the-radar name to know for shellwork, having worked on the gardens of some rather well known names, including the Spencer Churchill family, supermodel Jacquetta Wheeler and supposedly one of the Rolling Stones.

What the now shell house was previously used for is not known, as it was a crumbling wreck when Charlie arrived. However, he does note that ‘As investigations into the build commenced and the site was cleared, evidence of shells were found in the mortar. As we worked on it, the back wall had to be rebuilt and reinforced to secure the buildings, which then created this perfect recessed alcove-style room within the wall – ideal for a grotto or shellhouse! Perhaps it had been one before…’

The intricate art of shellwork is having a renaissance

It certainly is one now, a resplendent grotto decked out with, by Charlie’s estimation, over 4,000 shells that were collected from beaches he combed in Norfolk, Yorkshire and North Wales, as well as roping his sister and kids in to source from Cornish sands. It took 374 hours to create, with a mix of shells, tufa – a variety of limestone that is ‘as elusive as gold to source’ – and another ‘tufa look-a-like rock, which weighed much more and as a result the roof sections in particular were quite a challenge.’

Having studied sculpture in Florence and Rome, Charlie found the brief for the shell grotto ‘to be more like Renaissance grottos you find in grand Italian gardens’ hugely appealing. Charlie’s main inspiration in his work is Italian mannerist garden design and grottos – ‘Having come to garden design via sculpture the chiara scuro design principles of Italian gardens resonate with me’ – so it was a perfect fit for a love forged as a student. He reminisces, ‘While studying in Florence, returning daily to my little flat on Via Romana overlooking the Boboli Gardens, I rode my bike up a cobblestone hill through gardens that were dotted with fountains, alcoves or grottos trickling with water. In the still heat of Italian summer, they were the perfect places to stop and refresh – splashing my face with cooling water before heading on my way. They became meeting spots with friends for early evening ‘aperitivo & birre’ before heading to a restaurant.’ He continues, ‘It’s serendipitous, that entertaining seems to be what my clients use their shellwork pieces for.’

Shoppable, romantic rooms inspired by the sea

That’s what the shell grotto at the Talbot Hotel has been designed for too – ‘This particular shellhouse is offered up for aperitivo & evening drinks time and romantic dinners for hotel guests. I like the idea that guests stumble across it as a hidden gem, as it’s not obvious unless you happen to be strolling past the entrance.’ Drinks in the grotto can be requested on a bespoke basis by hotel guests, and have proved quite the hit already. ‘They had a bride and groom request a candlelit champagne and caviar table set in there for a private moment after their wedding,’ Charlie’s wife Violet shares. ‘Rather sweetly the couple wrote to Charlie out of the blue to tell him how lovely the experience was.’

Charlie Day: charliedaygardens.com

Published at Fri, 11 Jun 2021 10:31:34 +0000

Article source: https://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/gallery/charlie-day-shell-grotto