I do not normally leap out of bed so eagerly at 4 o’clock in the morning. However, clutching my ticket for the RHS Chelsea flower show I headed for the airport. I arrived in Gatwick before most folk had downed their coco pops. Striding out from Victoria, I could tell I was getting close. I could see the window boxes and shop window displays were getting better and better. Before I knew it, I was entering the grounds of the Royal Chelsea Hospital.
I had a blissful day wondering round the show gardens and absorbing the sumptuousness of the floral displays in the great pavilion. I investigated the latest and greatest in garden arbors, tree houses and bird baths on the trade stands before wending my weary way North of the border again.
Three of the gold medal winning show gardens really grabbed my attention and got me thinking so I will look at these in a bit more detail.
Dark Matter designed by Howard Miller
Howard Miller, who designed this conceptual garden designed won the best in show in the ‘Fresh Garden’ category. Unusually, he was an astronomer and he attempted to explain the concept to me. He told me that 70% of the Universe is made up of something that is not atoms and has not yet been characterised called ‘dark matter‘. The steel rods weaving their way through the garden were meant to represent beams of light going back in time. The way they bend is meant to illustrate the effect that the dark matter has on distorting the beams….or something to that effect at least! And man has only been around for the thickness of the steel portal at the front of the garden relative to the length of the wavy steel beams which go back to the beginning of time.
As well as having a clever concept (too clever for me!), the garden looked amazing and eye-catching and very original. The unusual planting scheme was beautiful and very effective too. wThe designers had cleverly used dark plants such as rusty leaved Rheum palmatum ‘Atrosanguinium’ and black stemmed Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’.
L’Occitane Perfumers Garden in Grasse designed by James Basson
Despite the cool breeze that was blowing through the Chelsea show ground, this garden really captured the feeling of a hot and dry and dusty landscape and transported you to the south of France. The ‘Lavoir‘ is the traditional Provencal building where local women gathered to wash linen. This was rustic and hand-crafted and the garden had a really neglected feel to it. The plants looked overgrown and weeds were creeping in. This effect has been created to reflect the decline of the traditional perfume industry in Grasse.
The planting was aromatic with osmanthus, bergamot, a fig tree, roses, lavender, rosemary and thyme. These are plants that would have been used in the perfume industry. The designer, James Basson has a house in Grasse. This close connection with the place and attention to detail has enabled him to create a very sensuous garden for L’Occitane. It really captures the spirit of the place.
The Daily Telegraph Garden designed by Marcus Barnett
The inspiration for this garden came from the De Stijl movement and is based on a painting by Mondrian. The garden also takes inspiration from the Essex countryside but this is distilled in to a contemporary garden. It has crisp clean lines and a grid of well proportioned spaces. Like the painting the planting scheme is bold, with blocks of primary colour in reds, whites, yellows and blues. The space is divided with blocks of hornbeam, yew and rosemary hedging, which add height and texture to the space.
I loved some of the planting combinations in this garden. The colour had been kept the same but different shapes and textures added layers of interest. Geranium ‘Rosanne’, Centauria, black spires of Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ mixed with dark leaved Cimicifugia. White flowers were perfectly complemented with silver foliage. Blocks of Tulipa ‘Red Hat’ added drama. And the yellow Doronicum flowers (a much underated plant) looked great planted with the zesty Euphorbia.
So all in all, these were three very different gardens. However, they were all able to capture the imagination and provide inspiration in their own way.