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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.