Catherine StewartChelsea Best in Show 2015

The Chelsea Flower Show’s ‘Best in Show’ for 2015 is, of course, the Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Why do I say ‘of course’?

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, sketch plan designed by Dan Pearson

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, sketch plan designed by Dan Pearson

Long before any of the Chelsea gardens were being built, and there was only a drawn ‘sketch up’ plan and a short written brief to indicate any designer’s intentions, I was reading how Dan Pearson would be certain to win both a Gold medal and Best in Show. Before the judging, his ‘odds’ were described in the UK Telegraph as 3-1, ahead of his nearest rival, Chris Beardshaw at 5-1. (Whether there’s an actual betting thing re Chelsea medals, I don’t know. Certainly if it were in gambling-addicted Australia, there would be.)

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

When Pearson hasn’t exhibited at Chelsea for 10 years and his last appearance earned him a Silver Gilt medal, why was his garden considered to be such a sure thing for the gong?

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

Maybe it’s money. With the combined input of Laurent Perrier and Chatsworth House the budget is, no doubt, enormous. And there’s also no doubt that Dan Pearson is a wonderfully talented designer, noted for his naturalistic planting.

But I did get a sense that Pearson was being feted by the media as a prodigal who had returned after a long and lamented absence to the Chelsea club fold. That’s not his fault or doing of course, but it made me sense days before the judging that his win was inevitable.

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

Pearson’s design brief for the garden described it as:

“a representation of a small – less trodden – part of the 105 acre Chatsworth Garden……In line with Pearson’s passion for naturalism and the wilder side of gardening, the exhibit is
inspired by Chatsworth’s ornamental Trout Stream and Paxton’s rockery. Planting reflects the lightness, freshness and delicacy of the 200-year old family owned Chatsworth House.”


Chelsea Flower Show's Best in Show 2015 - The Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

Chelsea Flower Show’s Best in Show 2015 – The Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

It’s a curious garden. Without having seen it ‘in the flesh’ I’m hesitant to make pronouncements about it (yes, can you believe it?), but it reminds me of a bush clearing that I loved as a child. Different continents and plants of course, but a similar aesthetic and ambience. Which makes me wonder – is it really a garden? Or just an astonishingly accurate reproduction of a natural area? I’m not convinced that one can be the other.

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

Designed to be viewed on each sides of its triangular site, it’s also a difficult garden to photograph and I’m sure all the journos covering the show this year are cursing the judges’ choice. A ‘see through’ garden is impossible to photograph well as the scenery beyond is usually lots of people, other gardens, tents, buildings and distracting visual clutter.

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden, designed by Dan Pearson. Photo Helen Young

It’s interesting to see a winning garden at Chelsea, the fashion catwalk of show gardening, that is so unstructured. No paving, no walls, no pavilion. Maybe it’s a reflection of current clothes fashions that show a preference for similarly unstructured garments.


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Catherine Stewart

About Catherine Stewart

Award-winning garden journalist, blogger and photographer; writer for garden magazines and co-author of 'Waterwise Gardening'; landscape designer turned landscape design judge and critic; compulsive networker and lover of generally putting fingers in lots of pies. Particularly mud pies. Original creator of GardenDrum. South Coast NSW.

12 thoughts on “Chelsea Best in Show 2015

  1. I feel like you, Catherine: without having seen it in the flesh, it’s almost impossible to get a proper sense of this one. It meets the stereotypical design, if not Chelsea, criteria of not revealing everything at once, which leaves us on the other side of the world all a bit confused. I do adore what I can see though and can’t imagine how the grasses all look so natural; just so clever. To me, it isn’t a replication of nature (it’s too diverse for that), but I’m not sure where else it would fit as a garden, other than at Chatsworth or Chelsea. I’m glad that skill and innovation has been fully credited though; I think this is what Chelsea show gardens should be about. And after all, we’re not looking to copying the gardens, just be inspired, which I, for one, definitely am (my brain is still whirling!).

    • I like its natural feel too, and the absence of built elements, but not the planting so much. Not knowing many of these woodland plants, the cleverness of their combination is a bit lost on me and I’m not inspired when I look at them in the photos.

  2. Thanks for your views, Catherine. Walking around the outside of Dan Pearson’s Best in the Show yesterday said his win was a fait accompli. His involvement with Chatsworth from the Peak District in Derbyshire is discussed here in hushed tones.The positioning of his garden at Chelsea in that it allows you to walk around it on four sides commands your attention and says”This is very important.”The replication of the natural beauty of the place with thousands of minute wild flowers naturally planted was awe inspiring but rather than admire its grandeur I was fascinated with the sheer logistics and the cost of transportation of a thousand tons of rock,soil, plants together with the building of a minute stream.all of which are to be returned to Chatsworth and each rock and plant re-positioned there.This after all is the estate of Mr Darcy’s Pemberley and is seen in many films and BBC productions. It is hallowed ground. Who could compete with that!

    • Yes I’m with you on that Jai. Such a nice change from Australia’s current obsession with pavilions and other built features dominating the garden. But I like Leon’s garden at Chateau Chaumont sur Loire better!

  3. I did see it in the flesh, Catherine, and find it a bit disarming, and a bit annoying, that you can so effectively discern the issues surrounding this garden having seen a few pics.

    As you suggest, by far the most impressive part of this garden was the impossibly high levels of stage-craft. Even the tiniest cracks between rocks had plants effectively ‘growing’ in them, and a video on rotation nearby showed the workers with buckets of leaf litter and other detritus actually brought from Chatsworth, and tickling it in amongst the mat of inch-high grasses and weeds that was laid over the entire scene, once other larger plants were planted.

    What it lacked, for me, was a buckling or folding of the mounds of rocks in such a way as to imply – even just hint at – spaces that called me in. I’d have loved to get in there and leap over the rocks, but only in order to make sure I’d seen everything, not because it enticed me into its embrace.

    But knowing Dan Pearson, probably even that is deliberate, and the feeling I left with was that it was a work of such genius that no one else stood a chance, whether or not there was any entitlement lurking in the background (and lets be clear that he hadn’t been the recipient of any favours at all in the past, with his 2004 Silver-gilt being particularly harshly judged).

    His 2015 garden was (sorry, I should say ‘is’, as the show is still going until this weekend) almost aggressively non-showy, and carried it off so well, that a whole lot of other really good gardens were in danger of looking a bit tacky by contrast.

    • Thank you Michael, and although I hate to annoy you (well, most of the time), it’s very comforting to know that I am not totally alone in my small criticisms of this garden. Yes, I can see it’s extraordinary and yes I can see the craft that has gone in to its making. But it doesn’t speak to me emotionally and it doesn’t satisfy all my ideas about good design. Unlike many other examples of DP’s work which I’ve been totally in love with from the moment I saw any photos of them. And I did see his Chelsea 2004 garden ‘in the flesh’ and adored it completely and was confounded by its Silver Gilt rather than Gold.
      I’ve read that he has described Chatsworth as a ‘walking’ garden so maybe that’s what unsettling me. I think that the Chelsea garden I see here intends to gently but firmly push us humans through, and away.

      • If I go to see musical theatre, and find the most impressive part of it – the bit I rave about most – being the clever staging/special effects, then I call it a fail. The stage-craft needs to serve the story, not the other way around. How effectively this garden does that depends, I guess, on Chatsworth’s reason for sponsoring such a garden, which was not at all clear. Certainly there were Chatsworth staff everywhere.

        Dan was disappointed with his Silver-Gilt in 2004, and told me at the time that he’d missed out on Gold due to the material he’d used for his path surfaces, which was a by-product of industrial furnaces. He said that the judges hadn’t understood the material, and that no points were awarded (or could be, given the limitations of their point-score system) for its consistency with its sustainable (then a new term) message.

  4. Interesting philosophical question. Can a reproduction of what occurs naturally be a garden (notwithstanding the” improvements” on nature the designers will inevitably make)? Is photorealism art? Is it acting to accurately portray a real person in film/television/on stage? Do authors who re-create historic events write?

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