My Thoughts – Chelsea Flower Show 2012

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.

Flower seen in most gardens

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.

Planted roof on a studio room itself designed for a roof top terrace

This was also a roof although it is difficult to see that from this image

walls and roofs planted were the main trend of the show

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.

Fresh or just juvenile

Many of the planted walls looked as if they would need a great deal of irrigation.

walls again – Fresh

The garden below ‘The Satoyama Life’ garden by the Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory was much more accomplished and drew lots of admiration.

Lovely moss lovely the external walls of a botthy

Undeserved gold

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.

Arthritic Research Garden

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)

by Thomas Hoblyn

excellent restrained planting

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.

Fountain inspired by the hundred fountains path at Villa d’Este

Here are a couple of images of Villa d’Este so you can understand his inspiration.

100 fountains path, Villa d’Este

Villa d’Este, Tivoli or Oval fountian

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.

Stripa tenuissima as waves

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.

I liked this interesting water feature again on a trade stand I think, although I’m not sure.

Now for the garden I think deserved to be ‘Best in Show’, designed by popular TV presenter Joe Swift.

Joe Swift’s garden

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.

great design

inspired planting

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.

16 thoughts on “My Thoughts – Chelsea Flower Show 2012

  1. Thanks for your thoughts on Chelsea, it’s very difficult to see the gardens properly on TV and to examine the planting, nice to have your ideas on the subject. Thanks for the images of Villa d’Este, we were there about 10yrs ago, brought back happy memories! I agree that Jo Swift deserved his gold, excellent for a first timer!

  2. Hi Christina, Really enjoyed reading about your Chelsea experience. I love the TV coverage. I know the presenters sometimes repeat themselves and every year is the best etc but really what should they say. It’s not really meant to be a critique and to be fair Mr Titchmarsh did say he thought it was time for a little less drifty planting. There is sometimes a feeling that the gardening world at that level is quite cliquey but then I guess that is no different from other professions. I lived abroad for a while, too and you really do appreciate British TV when you’ve experienced the offerings elsewhere. As for the show gardens I loved Cleve West’s and Joe Swift’s and also the Yorkshire garden that was inspired by the Brontes. I’ve spent a lot of time in Yorkshire and the place has a special place in my heart and the designer managed to create a real feeling of the place. I also loved the garden based on the border between North and South Korea. May be next year I’ll get there myself.

  3. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’ve been reading about vertical plantings. It must be the big thing this year because I saw a tall cylindrical vertical planter on one of the shop at home channels when I had insomnia one night. 🙂

  4. Hi Christina,what an interesting Celsea post. I only saw tv coverage this year.
    I loved Jo Swift’s garden- particularly his colours- a good change from pinks and purples. His gold was well deserved, tho I found the arches quite solid and a little intrusive. Tom Hoblyn’s garden didnt move me at all. I loved the Arts and Crafts Garden best, and found Cleve West’s design a bit derivative, tho of course beautifully planted. Arne Maynard had a section on TV from his garden in Wales, which was stunning, so I was ready to love his garden, which i did
    .All this opinion from just the TV coverage!!

  5. thanks Christina, I don’t have TV and have never been to Chelsea flower show, I enjoyed seeing your photos and reading your comments, whenever I see wall gardens I always think of the irrigation, with both wall and roof gardens another thing that comes to mind is weight you need a strong roof, I am old enough to remember the roof garden at a department store in Kensington when I was a child, can’t remember the name of the store, the 2 gardens you like both look nice and doable if the finace is there, thanks again for sharing I have enjoyed, Frances

  6. I really enjoyed this post, Christina and would have liked it to be longer! The Mediterranean planting in Thomas Hoblyn’s garden reminded me of the rose bed and the island beds in your garden. Planting is mostly what interests me and Joe Swift’s does look great. The cedar arches are arresting, but I like the plants better. Thanks for sharing your view of Chelsea.

    • Thanks Lyn, I thought the post was maybe too long! As I said I think the wooden arches were beautiful but in a real garden I thing a pergola structure with plants would be better. Christina

  7. Thanks for the tour. Someday I would like to attend the Chelsea Flower Show in person. Many of the gardens do seem sort of “out there” though. I am doing a post of all landscape shots of my garden for you and other readers that have requested them.

  8. I was looking forward to your post about Chelsea, and you’ve given me a really good perspective – excellent, thanks!

    Isn’t it interesting that the gimmicks are just that and not underlying trends, and soon pall? I’m so pleased that the crowds seemed to agree about Joe Swift’s garden – looks like really sound planting…

  9. Hi Christine, thanks for sharing your Chelsea experience. Your pictures are great – I felt almost as if I was there! I was especially intrigued by your perceptions of the “modern” approach… “fresh or just juvenile”?

    • The section for young designers was called ‘Fresh’, none were very new or innovative; I felt that the ideas were just young people thinking they were being clever and they weren’t, and I thought the bike idea was crazy so therefore juvenile. Christina

  10. First of all let me defend a little bit Italy! You are right, we have no ethnic food but do we need it? (ethnic restaurants are the first places I visit when I go to UK though!) And about telly…. well ok there’s nothing to defend there, it’s crap.

    I am so envious you managed to go to Chelsea! I’ve never been. I realy liked the gardens you liked too, the beds by Thomas Hoblyn are stunning yet doable, which makes them even better! The other one with timber arches is impressive, I’d never wanted something like that in my garden though but the planting is very inspirational.

    Did you get home with new projects in your mind?

    • I’ve grown up eating foods from all over the world and certainly now in the UK you can eat excellent quality foods (even English). I miss Chinese, Thai, Indian etc. partly becasue there aren’t actually very good restaurants in Viterbo well only one really good one! New projects, no! as you say I need a new garden. I would love to do pleached hedge someday, they are beautiful and useful. Christina

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