Thursday, 23 May 2013

Chelsea Centenary - This Year's trends in the Show Gardens

  For Christmas I was lucky enough to be given a ticket to go along to the centenary of the RHS Flower Show in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. It was a fab chance to meet with specialist nurseries and discover new plants to incorporate into my planting schemes as well as to take a look at the very latest trends in garden design and landscaping.

  The gardens on show here can't be described as real gardens, as the usual needs of a garden owner - such as where to hide the dustbins and how to incorporate a play area for children alongside attractive spaces for adults to entertain their friends in - don't have to be addressed, but the sponsors of each garden are keen to get their own message across through the designer's interpretation of their brief and as such the designers do have to keep their sponsor in mind when creating their showpiece gardens.

  Whilst the mix of designers participating in the show changes each year, it's interesting how there are always one or two themes that can be picked up across a number of gardens. This year I wondered whether the sponsors' purse strings had been tightened a little as there was, in general, a slight move away from large expanses of hard landscaping and incorporating very mature trees in favour of using younger specimens and a mixture of materials to produce the effect of expensive cut stone in the gardens without the cost of using it throughout. 
The Laurent-Perrier Garden designed by Ulf Nordfjell
  I also noticed several designers, including Robert Myers, Jo Thompson, Kate Gould and the Stoke-on-Trent Garden Partnership opting to create sunken gardens, thus adding an element of interest through the different levels and, to a certain extent, creating the feeling of seclusion within the spaces.
The Brewin Dolphin Garden designed by Robert Myers
  The designers did not just dig down to create interest through changes of level though: among others Ruth Willmott and Frederic Whyte, Jinny Blom and Phil Johnson built their gardens upwards creating dynamic gardens, each with their own story.
 B&Q Sentebale Forget-Me-Not Garden designed by Jinny Blom
Trailfinders Australian Garden presented by Fleming's designed by Phil Johnson
  The emphasis on sustainability in building our gardens continued this year with the return of the Blue Water Roof Garden project, which demonstrated multiple ways in which to protect water resources as well as "innovative biodiversity and habitat features". Kate Gould's garden showed how industrial waste could be reworked to form a modern garden, while Jo Thompson's 'Stop the Spread' garden highlighted the risk which pests, diseases and invasive non-native species of plants pose to our gardens and wildlife. 
RBC Blue Water Roof Garden designed by Professor Nigel Dunnett
The Wasteland designed by Kate Gould
  The importance of incorporating wildlife-friendly planting and passing our skills and knowledge on to the next generation of gardeners was the theme of Adam Frost's garden, with bee accommodation also central to Amy Curtis' dressing of one of the sculptural towers in the Fresh Gardens category of the show.
The Homebase Garden 'Sowing the Seeds of Change' designed by Adam Frost
Urban Bee Hotel designed by Amy Curtis
  The use of sculpture has long been one of my favourite aspects of designing a garden and this year's show gardens did not fail to please:
Roger Platts included a contemporary 'window' in corten steel
in his design for the M&G Centenary Garden 
Ben Barrell's sculpture in The Brewin Dolphin Garden
designed by Robert Myers
 'Libertine' wirework sculpture by Michelle Castles
The Arthritis Research UK Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw
Bronze sculpture of Orpheus by Carl Milles,
loaned to designer Ulf Nordfjell by the Millesgården Museum
in Stockholm 
for The Laurent-Perrier Garden 
  So, what of the planting and materials used in the gardens? Well, Kate Gould's designs did show that concrete can be successfully incorporated into gardens, but on the whole designers used sawn and laser-cut rock for a contemporary look, both with and without mortared joints. Narrow brick pavers made an appearance as well as stone chippings which doubled up as both ground cover and paving. Bold walls incorporated geometric patterns, with cuboid blocks appearing on a couple of occasions providing a look not dissimilar to the smaller blocks of cut rock that featured in contemporary drystone walls.
East Village Garden designed by Michael Balston and Marie-Louise Agius
The Brand Alley Garden designed by Paul Hervey-Brookes
Stoke-on-Trent's story of Transformation designed by Stoke-on-Trent Garden Partnership
featured a living wall above a contemporary drystone wall built from cut rock
Daily Telegraph Garden designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole
  The geometry in the walls was transposed into planting by Christopher Bradley-Hole. Blocks of evergreen shrubs were trimmed into cubes of varying heights. Between the formal cubes his planting was consistent with the loose, meadow-inspired planting also seen in most of the other show gardens. Plants that appeared in a number of gardens include Euphorbia x pasteurii (Spurge), Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' (Black-stemmed Cow Parsley) and Deschampsia flexuosa (Wavy Hair-grass), which was used effectively in the East Village Garden to provide a contrasting form and texture to other plants, although to my mind it creates quite an unkempt look when used to create an informal planting style. 
Impecable planting in the East Village Garden 
designed by Michael Balston and Marie-Louise Agius
  I'm sure that the very late spring has played its part this year with the lack of warmth meaning that plants that would ordinarily have been coaxed into flower have yet to bloom, so the colour palette at the start of the week was somewhat muted throughout the show gardens. However, in stark contrast was the warm, densely planted and colourful garden of plantsman Chris Beardshaw at his best.
The Arthritis Research UK Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw
  Multi-stemmed native trees continued to be popular with the designers and many more varieties are becoming available to us as the specimens that have been grown and nurtured for a number of years by specialist tree nurseries reach more mature sizes. The immaculate grass lawn also made a return to Chelsea, appearing in the East Village Garden, The Homebase Garden, The 9 Billion Conversation Garden and The Brewin Dolphin Garden.

  Water features were popular again too, from shallow dipping ponds to gentle, but noisy, waterfalls (I didn't spot any formal rills, but that's not to say there weren't any hiding among the planting), as well as reflective pools.
The 9 Billion Conversation Garden designed by Ruth Willmott and Frederic Whyte 
  In the marquee the displays were stunning, as always, but the plant that caught my eye this year was outside in the Stoke-on-Trent Transformation garden. This beautiful English Rose 'Lady of Shalott' is described as "a reliable and hardy rose, resistant to disease and blooming over a long period. Orange-red buds open to form calico-shaped blooms with a warm, tea fragrance." 
Rosa 'Lady of Shalott'
  Finally a word about the trade stands. With such an abundance of great planting around the show the effort that's put in to making the stands look great is often overlooked, but the planting at one in particular caught my eye. Landform Consultants had been asked by Hartley Botanic to do the hard landscaping for displaying the glasshouses and I'm sure you'll agree that it looks fab. I'm not sure who was responsible for the planting, I assume someone from the Landform team, but I though it looked great and I hope there'll be a little sunshine soon to coax their flowers into opening.   
Hartley Botanic's trade stand designed by Landform Consultants
  So that's it from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for 2013. I really enjoyed my day and I'm looking forward to the next RHS Flower Show at Hampton Court in July. Until then I'm off to find a space for that rose...
Chelsea, Tuesday 21st May 2013

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