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Christine Mackey

Silent Needles Speaking Flowers


What began as a series of reconnaissance trips from Buckler’s Hard and further afield led the artist Christine Mackey to encounter a number of plants that included the Asparagus setaceus - Asparagus fern, Arbutus unedo - Strawberry tree, and the Myrtus - Myrtle, all of which have strong historical connections to the Beaulieu estate and Montagu family. Further investigations with additional assistance from Kelvin Yapp, Head gardener and Susan Tomkins, Archivist on these plants led to the discovery of Florigraph. This practice centered on the symbolic or coded language of plants. The main instigator of this flower practice was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) feminist poet who was married to the English ambassador to Turkey Edward Wortley Montagu (1713-1776).

Letters she wrote home included an enthusiastic description of the Turkish ‘Selam’ (“hello”) a secret flower language used by harem women to communicate under the noses of their guards. When Montagu’s collected Turkish embassy letters were published in 1763, the idea of a flower code quickly caught on with fashionable Orientalist circle of educated readers and flower lovers.


The work presented here at the Observatory Public Studio assembles historical photographs and digital prints, a study drawing of the Asparagus setaceus growing in the Vine House at Beaulieu, which was cultivated from Lady Cecil Kerr’s wedding bouquet in 1889 and the re-creation of Lady Cecil Kerr’s Bouquet by Florist Finola Shaw. This installation operates as a playful engagement with the many stories and legacies that attend to the practice of botanical cultivation through to the inherent social bond between plants and our-selves. 


A very special thanks to the following people whose time, expertise and sharing of skills, resources and knowledge made this work possible, Head-gardener Kelvin Yapp, Beaulieu Estate; Florist Finola Shaw Belle & Blossom Floral Design, Beaulieu; Susan Tomkins Archivist and Heritage Education Officer, Beaulieu Estate; Jane Mills Manager, Bucklers Hard; Lord Montagu and the Montagu Family Beaulieu; Ian West Geologist and intrepid traveler; Co-directors Mark Drury and Phil Smith The Observatory, SPUD; and Rowena White Leygreen Farmhouse.







Christine Mackey

The Observatory Residency Programme

Bucklers Hard, Beaulieu

28th April, 2017

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