Steven WellsChelsea Flower Show 2016

On a glorious sunny Spring day in London the Chelsea Flower Show delivers again. The pinnacle of horticultural endeavours and exhibitors were on display and I was certainly impressed by the gardens on show.

With eleven gold medals awarded across the 31 gardens, 6 for the show gardens, there was endless inspiration to be immersed in for my first Chelsea experience. There was a diversity of gardens with a blend of naturalistic wilderness landscapes and domestic style gardens and I was actually drawn to both styles. Here’s a snapshot of some of the gardens that grabbed my attention.

The Telegraph Garden designed by Andy Sturgeon

The Telegraph Garden designed by Andy Sturgeon

Firstly, the Best in Show was awarded to Andy Sturgeon for The Telegraph Garden. This was indeed an impressive ‘captured landscape’ that was actually tipped to take the top honours. Inspired by the magnitude of geological events that have shaped and molded our landscape over millions of years. The striking elements of bronzed fins as mountain ranges and the long stone paths cleverly crossing rocky streams set amongst the impressive semi-arid planting gave a strong sense of the broader natural landscape, but still sat well with the intimate and restful gardened space at the rear end of the garden.

The Telegraph Garden designed by Andy Sturgeon

The Telegraph Garden designed by Andy Sturgeon

The stream indeed evoked my own childhood memories of hiking along creeks, crossing over fallen trees or jumping from rock to rock. I felt that the semi-arid plantings were a triumph, with a diversity of species sourced from around the world, some not seen before at Chelsea. The balance of structure and plantings was really inspiring.

The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden designed by Nick Bailey

The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden designed by Nick Bailey

My favourite garden that had me entranced from the moment I approached it was The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden designed by Nick Bailey and was awarded a Silver-Gilt medal. The garden’s layout is based on the mathematical symbol for infinity with its proportions based on the golden ratio and the closely related Fibonacci sequence. The garden was filled with many elements, both plants and individual artistic pieces, and yet they combined beautifully to represent the various mathematics and algorithms that underpin all plants, growth and life.

The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden designed by Nick Bailey

The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden designed by Nick Bailey

The patterned copper water feature was a delight to behold with its amazing shape and spiral water movement. Nick’s use of the flowing copper ribbon to represent an emerging seedling to link the spaces from the front of the garden to the top seating area was brilliant. Changing function from a seat etched with plant growth algorithms, to a banister leading up to the upper seating area to then become the railing and planters.

Nick Bailey doing early morning preparations. The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden designed by Nick Bailey

Nick Bailey doing early morning preparations.

Nick is indeed an accomplished plantsman and his use of plants many of which display mathematical patterns in their showy forms combined brilliantly to provide an appealing palette. The planting tones of chartreuse, muddy-red, silver and white combined beautifully with the background of copper, pale-blue and silver foliage tones. I now realise that the plant selection was the main aspect that resonated with me and held me captivated in this garden.

The M&G Garden designed by Cleve West

The M&G Garden designed by Cleve West

The M&G Garden designed by Cleve West was truly a delight to see. Awarded a gold medal, this was a very personal garden for Cleve as he drew on his experiences of his teenage years living in South West England. Dominated by oak trees and under planted with a soft tapestry of woodland shrubs, perennials, grasses, bulbs and annuals, the outcrops of large stones could appear to also dominate, however the skilful blend of rough sawn and natural rocks help to transition from the more natural spaces to the contemporary sunken terrace and pool. The inclusion of rocks with shallow pooling water was also fantastic.

The M&G Garden designed by Cleve West

The M&G Garden designed by Cleve West

It is a modern contemporary garden that evokes the feeling of living in Exmoor without looking exactly like it. I was particularly taken by the skilled design of large rocks used as seating with its hint of patterned underpinning of smaller rocks. Truly a master designer at work.

The M&G Garden designed by Cleve West

The M&G Garden designed by Cleve West

The garden that evoked a strong sense of fun, whimsy and entertainment was The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden designed by Diarmuid Gavin, which is a style he has successfully achieved previously at Chelsea. Awarded a Silver-Gilt it was definitely a theatrical garden which some have said may have been its Achilles’ heel stopping it from winning gold. Inspired by kinetic sculpture from some of the UK’s most imaginative minds, this garden was filled with moving parts and plants. At regular intervals the large topiary bay trees twirl, the buxus spheres bob up and down, spiral topiaries twirl, the building’s planter boxes move up and down, a ring of garden bed rotates around the building and its roof opens up.

The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden designed by Diarmuid Gavin

The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden designed by Diarmuid Gavin

The garden beds either side of the central sunken pond were jam packed with a joyous mixture of soft pastel flowers that were beautifully combined to provide a fullness and strong depth of planting. While the garden may have felt a little like a side show at the local fair I really did enjoy the delight and enjoyment it brought to the show.

Support, The Husqvarna Garden designed by Charlie Albone

Support, The Husqvarna Garden designed by Charlie Albone

The Husqvarna Garden, Support, was designed by Charlie Albone and I was drawn to it for its strong links to Melbourne. Awarded a Silver-Gilt medal, this garden was designed to represent a garden in Melbourne to be a space to relax, reflect and provide support. Many said it was actually the most British of this year’s gardens. This is a strong structured garden with clipped hedges, pleached horn beams and copper rills. With its mixed plantings of purples, pinks, burgundy, soft reds and hints of white it all gave a good sense of calming continuity.

Support, The Husqvarna Garden designed by Charlie Albone

Support, The Husqvarna Garden designed by Charlie Albone

The entertaining area with its cantilevered shelter was slightly raised and provided the space to relax and survey the savannah of the garden while sitting comfortably in the soft toned furniture. Having walked through the garden I certainly felt calm as I stepped down into the sunken lawn area up and moving through into the entertaining area. The use of Melbourne bluestone cobbles and steps in combination with the copper edging was executed beautifully.

5000 Poppies Project designed by Phillip Johnson with Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight

5000 Poppies Project designed by Phillip Johnson with Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight

Of all the exhibits the most special one for me was the 5000 Poppies Project designed by Phillip Johnson in collaboration with Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight. What began as a personal tribute by Lynn and Margaret in 2013 to love and honour their fathers who served at WW11 with 120 crocheted poppies has eventuated into a worldwide connection of over 50,000 people contributing crocheted poppies. The red sea of over 300,000 poppies, of which 26,000 were individually placed on stems, was stunning and impressive. In a real coupe this exhibit was located on The Royal Hospital lawns, the first time this area has been allowed to be used. In my opinion it was the perfect exhibit for that location. There were no living plants, only the overwhelming power of purpose, peace and place. To witness the Chelsea Pensioners walking down the carpet with the sound of bagpipes resonating behind them was an emotional experience.

Senri-Sentei Garage Garden designed by Kazuy

Senri-Sentei Garage Garden designed by Kazuy

Then there was the delightful and perfectly executed Senri-Sentei Garage Garden designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara which was awarded a gold medal in the Artisan category. Created for an antique car enthusiast this garden has generated a lot of interest. It’s about functionality in small spaces and maximising them to be filled with plants which I thought was great. While not new in concept, this garden really celebrated the effective use of space and aside from the delightful mini and lovely plants, I’m sure this garden is one that will resonate well with the tiny house movement.

 

 

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Steven Wells

About Steven Wells

Steven has successfully combined his nursing and horticulture careers to be working as a nurse, a horticultural therapist and the gardens and grounds project officer at Austin Health in Melbourne. He studied horticulture at The University of Melbourne’s Burnley campus and is the 2012 ABC Gardening Australia ‘Gardener of the Year’. Having grown up on a market garden and orange orchard he has ‘green blood’ and is a keen gardener. He is passionate about sharing the benefits of gardening, horticultural therapy and people-plant connections.

20 thoughts on “Chelsea Flower Show 2016

  1. Georgia on said:

    Lovely summary Steven – I agree that the drama of Andy Sturgeon’s garden was a real standout. Great to see strong themes and planting palettes working so well together.
    Looking forward to more updates!!

    • steven on said:

      Thanks Georgia. It was indeed a well balanced design and I felt that no single element was too dominant. Chelsea is an amazing thing, especially when it comes to the judging at such a high level. The small things are what often makes the difference. I’m hoping to get some more Chelsea news out soon.

  2. Pamm Brittain on said:

    Thank you for your great insights Steven! Chelsea always a favourite. The red poppies are stunning… Trust you are enjoying all your travels!

    • steven on said:

      Thanks Pamm. The poppies were amazing. Such an iconic and suitable place for them to be displayed here at Chelsea too being the lawns of The Royal Hospital for the Chelsea Pensioners. Quite moving.

  3. Thanks for a lovely taste of what’s on show this year. Having seen the poppies at MIFGS it’s good to see them get an overseas outing.

    • steven on said:

      It was indeed only a taste! There are many more gardens that I enjoyed but haven’t shared about (yet) as well as all of the other sights and delights of Chelsea. Such an amazing show that really does bring a good spectrum of people together. Isn’t gardening and gardens a wonderful thing that it can do all that.

  4. I really appreciate your overview of the show. Each garden has much to offer and I imagine it must be very special to actually be there and see them ‘for real’. My favourites are Nick Winton’s garden and the Senri-Sentei Garage Garden. Thanks for sharing!

    • steven on said:

      Yes these two were great gardens and for different reasons for me. Such is the richness of the show that it can provide show gardens, flowers and plants that excite for different tastes and interests.

  5. Great read and lovely pictures. I like your choices, and reasons for choices. Thanks.

    • steven on said:

      Thanks Tim. It is a tad difficult for me to narrow the “favourites” down. I might have to sneak a few more of them into a follow up article soon!

  6. Suzanne on said:

    Thank you for your excellent explanation of the concept behind the Telegraph Garden Steve. It certainly helps when interpretating the design, especially when gardens are so innovative. However, the garden that really appealed me was Nick Bailey’s. I think his concept is very exciting and the execution looks fantastic. I am also very excited by the use of Australian plants in these two gardens. Let’s open it kick-starts a trend back home.

    • steven on said:

      Thanks Suzanne. Nick’s garden was really a delight to enjoy. Having revisited the show today on a busy crowd day it was interesting to see which gardens have good crowds around them and which ones hold people for longer periods. Naturally the main show gardens all get crowds around them, however it certainly appeared that people were lingering for longer around Nick’s. It just had so much in it that was enjoyable but it was certainly not cluttered or crowded. The plant selection was varied, with Australian plants included, and the landscape elements and art pieces were all really well balanced.

  7. Great write up Steve.
    I am loving the best in show. Geomorphic, brutalist hardscape with water responsible unstructured alpine inspired plantings? Yes please : )

    • steven on said:

      Yes Daniel, it was all of that and more! The attention to detail in these Chelsea gardens are amazing and this one was no exception. Glad you enjoyed it.

  8. Great description Steven for all of us at home who plan to go see for ourselves some day! Enjoying following your travels. cheers
    Anne

    • steven on said:

      Thanks Anne. The Chelsea Flower Show is well worth a visit.The gardens, the flowers, the plants, the passionate horticulturists and the eclectic blend of visitors is very enjoyable! Cheers, Steven

  9. I really enjoyed Chelsea this year and thank you Steve, your images and accompanying critique great. Difficult not to get someone’s head in the shot with the crowds around each garden. I might be a little crass but the Harrod’s garden was my favourite. Love to have a few plants in my garden spinning and bobbing!

    • steven on said:

      Thanks Peta. Yes it is an action packed show with people everywhere. Wouldn’t it be fun to have twirling, bobbing and spinning plants in the garden at home! It would make a great welcome entrance at the front door for visitors!

  10. Catherine Brown on said:

    Great summary Steve. My first visit to Chelsea and certainly not my last. Charlie Albone’s garden certainly drew me on too.

    • steven on said:

      Hi Catherine. Thanks. Was Charlie’s your favourite? I think there will be more people asking for leucadendrons at their local nursery in the UK after seeing his garden.

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