Leon KlugeLights, Camera, BLOOM – and a win at Philly!

Arriving at JFK international airport, Bayley LuuTomes and I could see that this would be a show like no other. It’s -7 degrees Celsius outside, and everything from the roads to the telephone posts are covered with ice. And not the pretty white and fluffy kind. No this was old brown and black snow, the dirty kind that you slip on while holding on for dear life at every traffic light pole, while praying the light would change quickly so you could get into the nearest shop and just buy whatever they sell so you have an excuse to stay inside and warm up.

Having fun in the snow with Bayley LuuTomes

Having fun in the snow with Bayley LuuTomes

This was my first indoor show garden and the first winter show I have ever done. My plants were ordered about 4 months prior, and sent to special forcing hot houses that would, with careful planning, make the dormant plants miraculously come to life and be in full bloom at exactly the time of the grand opening of the show. There is no backup for the plants so, if the calculation was out, I would have a desert garden instead of a flowering meadow.

The Philadelphia Flower Show has been a bucket list show for me to participate in for a very long time. Not only is it the world’s oldest flower show, running from 1829, but it also has the most visitors, at a staggering 300,000. The show fills an area of 10 acres, all inside the Philadelphia Convention Centre; everything truly is bigger in the US.

'A Maleficent View' show garden concept sketch-up. Design Leon Kluge

‘A Maleficent View’ show garden concept sketch-up. Design Leon Kluge

I was one of only 4 international participants among a sea of USA designers invited to be part of the show. All international designers are previous Best in Show winners at other distinguished flower shows across the world and have acquired numerous gold awards. Australia was represented by one of my favourite gardening personalities, Jim Fogarty. Not only is he a great designer, but a fun guy to have around, as there is never a dull moment with him around. Malaysia was represented by Inch Lim, a unique designer, who has the magic touch when it comes to placing plants. The UK’s space was filled by acclaimed designer and good friend Paul Hervey Brookes, who is an absolute master in the art of English gardening.

Leon Kluge show garden A Maleficent View at Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

Leon Kluge show garden A Maleficent View at Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

The Philadelphia Flower Show has a theme every year and this year they partnered up with Disney, and celebrated Disney movies past and present. All the designers were asked to choose a Disney movie, find inspiration from the chosen movie, and then create a show garden to delight the audiences. I chose ‘Maleficent’, a 2014 movie that tells the back story of the wicked fairy queen from Disney’s 1959 movie of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. (If you’re not familiar with ‘Maleficent’ you can read more about it below.)

Scene from the Disney movie 'Maleficent' starring Angelina Jolie

Scene from the Disney movie ‘Maleficent’ starring Angelina Jolie

Each of the international participants was partnered up with a local contractor, to liaise between the designer and the various people involved in constructing the garden. I had Tom Morris from Downend Landscaping looking after me. What can I say, there is nothing quite like warm American hospitality! We were welcomed into their home with open arms, taken to ice hockey games by his lovely wife Kathleen, and taught in detail how to break open and eat Alaskan crab legs by their 12 year old daughter Gabby.

Building the garden art in the snow! With Bayley LuuTomes

Building the garden art in the snow! With Bayley LuuTomes

Build-up started about a week before the show for Bayley and me, as we wanted to sculpt all the artwork ourselves. As the artwork is quite large we had to do some of it outside, and we were not expecting that heavy snow storms would be a constant part of our outdoor experience. This was our official first proper snow experience, and oh boy did we take full advantage of it – snow angels, snow ball fights, yellow snow and, of course catching the flu. We did it all!

Oh yes it's cold! Working on the floating stick sculpture for 'A Maleficent View' outside in freezing temperatures. Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

Oh yes it’s cold! Working on the floating stick sculpture for ‘A Maleficent View’ outside in freezing temperatures

Designers had only 4 days to construct their gardens in the Philly Convention Centre. That is not a lot of time at all, so sleep became a luxury that we just didn’t have.

Bayley LuuTomes assembling the 'floating sticks' garden art at Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

Bayley LuuTomes assembling the ‘floating sticks’ garden art. In the background you can see the formwork for the water feature and the assembled seat area

Our seating structure was cut by hand and each plate meticulously spaced. Spacing and placing of hard elements is done on day one, landscaping and shaping of soil done on day two, planting on day three, and finishing touches on day four.

Sculpted seating in 'A Maleficent View' Design Leon Kluge. Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

Sculpted seating in ‘A Maleficent View’ Design Leon Kluge

The different designers hardly saw each other during build-up as everybody was just completely focused on their end goal.

'A Maleficent View' Design Leon Kluge. Best in Show Landscape Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

‘A Maleficent View’ Design Leon Kluge. Best in Show Landscape at Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

My garden, ‘A Maleficent View‘ had this message:

From deep in the land of the Moors, where trees seem to have a life of their own, water illuminates in different flowing colours and mystical creatures float by on a breeze. It is here where the inspiration for this garden was born and transformed into a home garden that seems to take you on a magical journey. Wander over a mystical pond surrounded by ancient trees and hills morphing into pathways and steps. The closer you come, the more they entice you to explore, stretching out their branches and flattening their roots, shaping them into a wooden stairway leading to a beautifully woven enclosure overlooking a valley of complete splendour and peacefulness.

Sticks floating sculpture for 'A Maleficent View' Design Leon Kluge. Best in Show Landscape Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

Floating sticks represent Maleficent’s angry side. Sculpture for ‘A Maleficent View’ Design Leon Kluge. Best in Show Landscape at Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

Carefully chosen human-form conifers for 'A Maleficent View' Design Leon Kluge. Best in Show Landscape

Carefully chosen human-form conifers for ‘A Maleficent View’ Design Leon Kluge. Best in Show Landscape at Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

Some of the elements I used in the garden are:
– the floating sticks represented Maleficent’s angry side. As she thunders her way to the king’s palace, all elements behind her started to float.

– the spiky sticks are the devision between the happy side and the more serious side of the garden. They had wire wrapped over some of the spiky points, representing Maleficent being allergic to metal.

– the seating area is a morphing of all the roots in the forest into her space, or a seating area in a home garden.

Handmade metal flowers. Design Leon Kluge. 'A Maleficent View' show garden.

Handmade metal flowers. Design Leon Kluge. ‘A Maleficent View’ show garden.

– everything had organic shapes, the black reflection pond had floating handmade metal flowers and 3 water spouts with water falling through the pond, rather than into the pond.

– the 5 old spruce trees were specially chosen to look like the guardians of the forests in the movie. It took me a looong time to find them, each of them having a human like feature about it.

Garden edging formed with sticks and rocks. 'A Maleficent View' show garden. Design Leon Kluge. Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

Garden edging formed with rocks, wood and vines gives the woodland feel. ‘A Maleficent View’ show garden. Design Leon Kluge.

– the edging of the garden is done with a combination of rocks, wood, vines and plants to give it a natural forest feel.

– all our plants were chosen to a strict and soft color palette of greens, white, mauve and blue, from foxgloves, to snow drops and grasses in between.

Organic shape and still black water in the reflection pond. A Maleficent View show garden. Design Leon Kluge

Organic shape and still black water in the reflection pond, as the water falls through, rather than into the pond. A Maleficent View show garden. Design Leon Kluge.

The opening of the show was a grand affair, with a glitzy entrance, hundreds of VIP guests, great food and music and, the most nerve wrecking of all – the announcement of all the medals.
The 5 gold medal winners in the show were:
– Australia’s Jim Fogarty won gold.
– The UK’s Paul Hervey Brookes won gold.
– The veteran and amazing US designer Jack Blandy of Stoney Bank Nurseries won gold.
– Malaysia’s Lim Inch also took home gold and Best Use of Color in a display.

'A Maleficent View' Design Leon Kluge. Best in Show Landscape Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

‘A Maleficent View’ Design Leon Kluge. BEST IN SHOW Landscape at Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

We took back home (which is now New Zealand for Bayley and me) a Gold Award, plus the Philadelphia Flower Show Cup – Landscape, plus the Governor’s Trophy for Best Innovative/Unique Design and also last, but not least, the ‘BEST IN SHOW’ award!

Leon Kluge and Bayley LuuTomes celebrating Best in Show Landscape for 'A Maleficent View' Design Leon Kluge at Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

Leon Kluge and Bayley LuuTomes celebrating Best in Show Landscape for ‘A Maleficent View’ Design Leon Kluge at Philadelphia Flower Show 2015

The ‘BEST IN SHOW’ award came as a complete and utter surprise to us and and we are so grateful for it. This show was an experience of a lifetime in every way possible, as we made many friends, and experienced the American way of life and gardening.

This is a must see garden show for any garden lover out there. It’s different and bigger in every way possible, adding glamour and unparalleled variety to the garden palette and presented to the visitor in a way that no other show could possibly achieve.

Disney movie, 'Maleficent' (starring Angelina Jolie) inspired A Maleficent View

Disney movie, ‘Maleficent’ (starring Angelina Jolie) inspired A Maleficent View

[MALEFICENT – Disney Movies synopsis: ‘Maleficent’ is the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’. A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.]

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Leon Kluge

About Leon Kluge

Leon Kluge is an award-winning landscape designer who was part of the successful South African team at Chelsea in both 2010 and 2012, and the Gardening World Cup in Japan in 2011, and then won a Gold medal at the 2013 Cup. Leon is known for his modern, contemporary landscapes, sustainable community projects and his specialisation in vertical gardens. His company Leon Kluge Landscape Design is based in north-eastern South Africa.

7 thoughts on “Lights, Camera, BLOOM – and a win at Philly!

  1. Brilliant Leon, and fanciful, but definitely more like a film set than anything you would use in a home garden – although there may be a few ‘other earth’ characters who could live in it.
    My favourite element is the very organic ‘garden seat’.
    Congratulations!

  2. Ooh I love all those undulating, organic shapes. Like Kim I’m smitten with that seat. It looks alive! But I’m also impressed by how you’ve managed to have both moving and still water in the same water feature. That’s very clever. I also like how the garden shows your (and Bayley’s) art-making side, as well as your design skills.

    • Thank you guys, yip, We love art and creating interesting features for gardens, maybe we should consider doing a outdoor art range for gardens.
      Hmmm, we’ll see

  3. Congratulations, Leon and Bayley. I too, am in love with that seat!

  4. helen mckerral on said:

    Leon, your work is truly inspiring. Thank you for sharing it!

  5. Chantelle Leenstra on said:

    So interesting to get a glimpse into the ‘behind the scenes’ making of a Best in Show garden. All those hours spent hard at work and lovely personal connections made too. Congrats on the win Leon!

  6. Rose on said:

    Brilliant as always Bayley!

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