It is hard for me to leave my garden in May. It is the month when everything flowers including some plants that only flower at this time. But I like to keep up with new trends in design and also see new varieties displayed in the Grand Marque. So I we went to London, met with friends and family saw a couple of exhibitions, ate some ethnic food (doesn’t really exist in Italy and is something I miss) and I got up early to be at the gates of The Chelsea Flower Show as they opened, full of hope for inspiration. It is also where I usually choose my tulips as nothing compares with actually seeing the colour of the blooms.
I had managed to see a bit of the tv coverage of the show so I had an idea of what to expect. I read several blogs criticising the coverage and while I agree about the presenters of the show I have to defend the BBC and tell British gardeners that they should be thankful they don’t have to watch Italian television, where gardening is considered some kind of weird interest programme to be treated as a joke. (Moan over).
Overall I enjoyed much of what I saw, was disappointed by the overall standard of the planting; happy that the standard of the catering facilities seems to improve every time I visit (not every year) and that someone has organised the toilet facilities so that queues were rare, I never had to queue.
Every year at Chelsea there is one plant that somehow makes its way into every show garden, 2 years ago it was a brown iris, possibly Kent Pride and I was feeling a bit smug as I already had this in my garden (I’m kidding really, I had it by chance and I don’t choose my plants for fashion, this year this is the plant of the moment.
Other trends, planted roofs and walls were featured heavily; I don’t really have strong feelings about these; the university here in Viterbo has also set up an experimental planting on a wall at a nursery; I can see advantages for small gardens and certainly a planted roof has environmental advantages, this year they were planted with grasses and perennials rather than the usual sempervirens – I think sempervirens are more likely to be successful in the long term as they will survive periods of drought and exposure to wind.
The Fresh gardens I thought were anything but this; it seemed like young designers thinking they were being controversial or modern but actually most were just boring.
Many of the planted walls looked as if they would need a great deal of irrigation.
The garden below ‘The Satoyama Life’ garden by the Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory was much more accomplished and drew lots of admiration.
I very much admired the Pleached copper beech walk in Arne Maynard’s garden, although the effects of the difficult spring made the copper beech less beautiful than it might have been. The garden was very popular with the crowds, maybe for its pretty, pretty pink combinations; although I liked some of the planting I felt it was an impossible garden to really create as there was no way that the gardener could get in amongst the plants to pick flowers as Arne suggested.
There were two show gardens I enjoyed enormously; they are in any order I loved them both equally but for different reasons. The first was the Arthritic Research Garden designed by Thomas Hoblyn. I liked the sunken garden effect and I enjoyed his taking his inspiration from Villa d’Este, Tivoli and Villa Lante, Viterbo that he had visited during his honeymoon. I visit both these gardens on very regular basis and his interpretation is modern and usable in a garden today (albeit for a very wealthy garden owner)
The planting was possibly the most realistic of all the gardens, by this I mean that he had used plants that had similar requirements, basically Mediterranean climate, so that they looked superb together. This aspect of the other gardens was one of my disappointments with the show; many of the planting schemes seemed to have been done by people with no knowledge of plants needs at all. With all the talk of drought and planting for climate change there should have been more attention shown to planting sensibly.
Here are a couple of images of Villa d’Este so you can understand his inspiration.
In the first image of Thomas’ garden you can see a fountain on the left, the image above of Tivoli or Oval fountain was its inspiration. Much less impressive but more likely to be acceptable to a contemporary client.
On one of the numerous trade stands selling garden furniture (do you think there are too many?) the fun planting of Stipa tenuissima with swimming fish also attracted admiring glances and showed the versatility of this, one of my favourite and signature plants in my garden.
Now for the garden I think deserved to be ‘Best in Show’, designed by popular TV presenter Joe Swift.
The well designed use of space made the garden feel much larger than it actually was. The cedar arches were beautiful although I imagine any gardener would have preferred traditional pergolas so that they could have been planted with climbers.
The planting was inspirational, he used all plants that needed no irrigation but were all suitable to the temperature range of at least the southern part of the UK. The limited colour palate gave a restfulness to the garden that none of the other gardens achieved. Certainly the crowds at Chelsea spent longer looking at and admiring this garden than any other I think.