Parsonage Farm, Kirdford – wonderful colours, beautifully designed. In 2017 opening on Friday June 23 and Sunday September 10, 2-6pm. secretarial job at Hennessy Cognac, and then working into the night. “I have no idea how I did it,” she says.
After she married she gave up the day job but continued flower arranging – for the V&A and other museums, for weddings and at venues including St James’s Palace, the Banqueting House, Whitehall, and the Queen’s House, Greenwich. She still does occasional weddings but her coup de theatre is a display for the NGS’s annual press conference. “The best flower arrangers are the gardeners because they understand how things grow,” she says. “They don’t contrive anything. They just make the flowers speak for themselves.” Long before it became the fashion, Penny was creating loose, informal displays of native flowers.
The memory of those floorsweeping bridal confections of the past haunts her. “Every one of those little stephanotis stars had to be wired,” she says.
In 1999, Penny’s sailing-mad husband, Ben Jones, was lost at sea. He and his crew perished – it is thought they were run down by a tanker in the North Sea – but it was many months before she discovered, via a private investigator, where his body had been buried. The couple were separated but the trauma of not knowing what had happened was intense, especially for their four children.
“It was absolutely horrific. They just scooped him up off a beach somewhere and buried him in Germany without telling me. I had wanted to do a proper burial at sea.” Her second husband, Maurice Snell, a timber agent, died in 2008. In both personal trials and tragedies she found her garden and her NGS work a refuge. “When I get stressed by anything I just go out in my garden. Being busy helps but the beauty of it all lifts your spirits.”
The day after my visit, Penny opened her garden for the 21st year and raised £1,500 in three hours.