With last year’s Chelsea blog still in my drafts folder I am determined that this year I will actually post about my Chelsea findings. With so many other writers and bloggers doing exactly the same thing I thought that instead of writing about the general loveliness I would write about what I would like to know if I were unable to attend.
It’s exciting to read the Chelsea previews and see the artist’s impressions of the gardens but do they actually look like that? Are the gardens innovative and exciting? Or as some may suggest, are one or two of the offerings just a teeny bit ’emporor’s new clothes’ -ish?
Using one of my favourite garden magazines, The English Garden as my source, I went in search of the sketches they published in their May edition and tried to photograph from the same angle (not easy due to the volume of people).
Here’s what I found:
Best in show: The M&G Garden by James Basson. It’s always good to visit the M&G garden first in order to collect your free bag in which to put the rest of the leaflets you are determined not to pick up but somehow always do. The M&G garden, designed by James Basson is ‘the story of how nature has reclaimed a man-made landscape over time’. Inspired by Malta, the garden idea sprung from his love of quarries and dry landscapes. With increasingly dry summers, this garden could hold a few clues as to the type of dry-loving plants we could focus on planting if we are not a fan of watering in the hot weather. I predicted this to be best in show; the starkness of the hewn stone and the delicate planting were different and told a story. The garden was divided into zones: shrubland, the hilly Mediterranean cliffs and coast, all echoing the ecology of Malta. It was not supposed to be pretty, it was supposed to tell a story but sadly the general public seemed almost unanimously unimpressed. (Awarded Gold. Obvs).
The Royal Bank of Canada Garden by Charlotte Harris. An interpretation of the Canadian wilderness in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. Think trees and water and you get the picture. An impressive girl-power all-female design and build team were behind this garden which contained five 50 year old pine trees surrounding understated layers of foliage dotted with occasional colour, the focus being drawn towards the copper-lined pavillion. (Awarded Gold).
The Silk Road Gardens, Chengdu by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins. Continuing with the travel theme, Patrick Collins and Laurie Chetwood’s garden was inspired by China and is aimed to reflect the topography of Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan). Soaring triangles of red and pink hard landscaping represented mountains whilst the Silk Road was interpreted by the path in graduated shades of pink planted with species native to China. This garden was certainly dramatic. I only wished that I could step onto the ‘silk road’ and examine the pink themed planting more closely! (Awarded Silver-Gilt).
An English inspired Welcome to Yorkshire Garden by Tracy Foster recreates some of the features of the Yorkshire landscape and ambitiously squeezes in a mocked-up ruined Abbey amongst chalk boulders and coastal plants. Tranquil and atmospheric, the moored boat on the water actually made you feel as though you were looking towards a country meadow. This was my most pleasing ‘artist’s view to camera angle’ shot and I far preferred the real thing to the sketch! (Awarded Silver).
The people’s choice garden: The Morgan Stanley Garden by Chris Beardshaw. It came as no surprise to hear that this floriforous garden won the people’s choice. The general public want to see abundant flowers in an inspiring setting. Eavesdropping on snippets of conversation it was easily the most popular choice for the visitors. (Awarded Silver Gilt but judging by the public opinion it should have been a Gold!).
500 Years of Covent Garden – The Sir Simon Milton Foundation Garden by Lee Bestall. The most interesting part of this garden for me was reading about it in The English Garden. It would appear that the original Covent Garden market was built on the site of a 13th Century orchard. Under the ownership of Westminster Abbey, the area, formerly known as ‘The Garden of the Abbey and the Convent’ and later shortened to ‘The Convent Garden’ was used for growing fruit and vegetables. By the 17th Century it was known as Covent Garden and was an open air market. Who knew?! Lee Bestall’s offering was a representation of the old Covent Garden market, featuring cobbles and arches. Planted in shades of green, pink and white to represent spring apple blossom, it was attractive enough but for me there was no ‘wow’ factor. (Awarded Silver).
In the Artisan Gardens area, The IBTC Lowestoft Broadland Boatbuilder’s Garden by Gary Breeze caught my eye mainly due to the naturalistic planting that seemed so dominant this year. Fenland inspired vegetation surrounds a threequarter sized replica of a 900 year old boat which was discovered in 2013 in the Norfolk Broads. (Awarded Gold).
Winner of ‘Best Artisan Garden’, the Walker’s Wharf Garden by Graham Bodle was to the casual observer, a large amount of industrial-style rusty metal set amongst more naturalistic planting. Inspired by disused industrial areas along the waterways of northern England, the garden was mainly green with pine trees and grasses. (Awarded Gold).
I have run out of ‘artist’s impressions’ so now, further musings based on photos that I took:
Meanwhile, another Artisan Garden, The Poetry Lover’s Garden by Fiona Cadwallader was being very well received by the viewing public and it was easy to see why. Dry stone walls, structural pruned limes and a water feature beside an enticing lounger, this garden represented achievable ideas amongst pretty planting in a green and purple theme. Inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘This Lime Tree Bower My Prison’ this garden was pure poetry to the hoards of appreciative visitors. The only negative about this garden was the fierce helper handing out leaflets with the comment “MUST you take a leaflet? They are very costly to produce you know. You can find all the information online. I don’t know why everyone wants leaflets, they only get thrown away”. (Well I kept mine so I could blog about it, so thank you). (Awarded Silver).
Gosho No Niwa No Wall, No War by Kazuyuki Ishihara was a beautifully composed Japanese Garden presided over by a copper pavillion reminicent of a Japanese tea-house surrounded by rocks, water and acers. With little hillocks of moss and injections of blue provided by irises, this garden was inspired by the Kyoto palace of Japanese emperors, a “garden that could never be attacked, and therefore possessed neither moat nor wall to protect it”. Elegant and restrained, a pure sanctuary and much admired. (Awarded Gold).
The story behind The World Horse Welfare Garden by Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith is the sad tale of equine neglect. To mark the 90th anniversary of World Horse Welfare, the aim of the garden was to highlight the plight of neglected and abandoned horses across the world. Another naturalistic garden, this one was dominated by a lifesized statue of a horse, made entirely from rusted horse-shoes, many donated by well-known horses and their owners. Beside the skillfully re-created tumble-down stable, plants poisonous to horses were lushly planted. Comments on social media showed concern that the charity was using donations to fund the garden but it has become apparent that the installation was funded by a private donor. Hopefully this garden, which was awarded ‘People’s Choice’ in the Artisan Gardens will remind visitors to support the World Horse Welfare charity. (Awarded Gold).
Elsewhere, other memorable gardens included ‘City Living’ by Kate Gould, with inspiration for greening up city living. The Radio 2 gardens received a huge amount of publicity and attention and again, I would imagine because they were the sort of spaces that visitors felt they might like to re-create in their own gardens. I especially liked the Anneka Rice cutting garden, designed by Sarah Raven, awash with colour and zingy freshness.
So many visitors rush around the show gardens without lingering to absorb and understand the story behind them. With so many trade stands and opportunity for refreshment it’s easy to use each part of Chelsea as a tick list. Despite fewer large gardens, Chelsea 2017 provided an inspirational tour of what’s new combined with old favourites.