It’s that time of year again and on Tuesday of this week, I made my annual pilgrimage to SW3 together with my trusty Chelsea companion (my Mum!). This year’s visit was as a member of the viewing public agog with anticipation, excitement … and umbrellas … and after last year’s foray as an exhibitor it was tinged with a level of relief mixed with some regret. I had actually been asked to design a scheme for the same Client I’d worked with last year but – in the end – narrowly missed out being picked as the designer to Chelsea stalwart, Sarah Eberle. Congratulations should go to Sarah whose exhibit entitled ‘Beyond our Borders’ for the APHA won Gold in the Fresh category and I’m so pleased for the Clients who now have a Gold Medal to add to their growing collection!
Mum and I make a point of visiting all the gardens and as much of the Great Pavilion as is physically possible. It was an amazing day and for a horticultural geek and design zealot what could be better than immersing oneself in all that is Chelsea for a day. However, I do feel that there were some real highlights, some stunning design and truly amazing planting that will be remembered for a long time to come but there were also possibly less totally awe-inspiring gardens – for me – than in other years.
I – like so many other people – could not wait to see Dan Pearson’s return to Chelsea and to experience his Chatsworth-inspired creation. I was not disappointed in so many ways and some of the photos below show why I think it deservedly won Best Show Garden. However – I really believe – that the wonder of the space could only be experienced truly by being IN the garden. Walking around the perimeter of the triangle plot was great and it was definitely the correct pitch for this garden but the wonder of the landscape and the intricate detail and nuances must have been overwhelming if you could have walked the paths and scrambled over the rocks! I know that Chelsea is a platform to ‘look’ and not ‘touch’ and it’s not the venue for getting up close and personal with the precious creations. Nor should it be … but I just needed to wander into his creation, to sit and to look at the detail at every turn of the head. Dan would probably say that this is one of the reasons why he is reluctant to do show gardens and why he believes that gardens need to have a sense of place, a larger narrative and a relationship with the wider landscape and I think that – although this ‘garden’ was brilliant … it still felt a little uncomfortable with views of people, trade stands and the BBC studios leering above!
But what do I know?! It is after-all a show with exhibits – but I am really looking forward to a visit in the future to Chatsworth to see the landscape in person and to sit and see everything I had a taste of at the show in its proper context. This is what Dan does so well. He gives context, relationships and a sense of place. However, with my slightly cynical hat on, my reaction is possibly exactly what the sponsors want to hear. They – in the long run – obviously want visitors to come to the garden and house itself, so I am sure … from their point of view … the garden has worked wholeheartedly if it persuades people to visit Derbyshire!
I loved the delicate, but jewel-like Species Tulips inserted into the meadow planting and the lightness of the Cornus canadensis nestled beneath the heavy rocks. The stone gave gravity and a contrasting geological backbone to the wild and airy planting. Not all the trees or shrubs were perfect (one of the Laburnum had apparently gone into shock with the move and had not flowered as well as its partner) but this was the realism appearing and thank goodness the RHS did not drop marks for these points. I also loved the intersecting path; a manipulation on a human scale and a subtle intervention to remind us that Chatsworth is in fact – for all its natural essence – a man-made landscape.
The M & G Garden by Jo Thompson was a totally different experience. I loved the space in terms of its planting, its small, enclosed seating areas and natural swimming pond. The large building was beautifully made with stunning detail but I felt that the stone piers needed to be sunk into the path or to appear as if they were rising from the planting. I believe that this might have had something to do with its award of a Silver Gilt medal instead of a Gold. However, this said, the small, circular seating area with the stone benches and the Breedon Gravel path was enchanting and – once again – I wanted to sit within this space!
Tom Stogdon’s (tomstogdon.com) sculpture sat beautifully in amongst the verdant planting and harmonised with the other hard landscaping materials. His crafted stonework is a total joy and the reason why I’ve used his work in some of my gardens.
The last garden to be featured in this first Post from Chelsea is The Beauty of Islam with Al Barari Firm Management LLC designed by Kamelia Bin Zaa. This is not necessarily my type of garden in terms of the dominance of hard materials and the sparseness in planting. However, I believe – like Dan Pearson’s garden – it was a fantastic lesson in how to condense the essence and character of a place and instil it in a fairly small garden.
The hard landscaping – completed by David Dodd and his team from The Outdoor Room was beautifully executed with a real eye for detail. I love bold, strong design and the scale of the features worked really well within the space. I especially loved the shadows cast by the arches and planting and thought that this garden really came to life when the sun shone.
The next instalment of this Journal post will include photographs and comments about some of my other Chelsea highlights including a taste of Chelsea in Bloom (chelseainbloom.co.uk) – the wonderful competition where shops and businesses around Sloane Square decorate their windows and doorways with floral displays to celebrate the Show.