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.

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Villa Medici, Rome

Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday I was at Villa Medici in Rome where the French academy was hosting a convention entitled “From painting to the Garden. Artistic transfers from Antiquity to the present time”.  Papers were given by 16 academics under the above theme although the actual topics varied greatly.  I very much enjoyed the stimulation and often enlightening papers and discussion that followed.  Villa Medici’s garden is under the care of the French academy and has undergone some restoration.

Villa Medici

Most of the large original sculpture that was displayed in the garden has since been taken to Florence and can be seen in the Boboli Garden or The Loggia di Lanzi in Piazza Signoria.

Fresco of the villa in the study

The garden is typical of the Renaissance with compartments created from Box hedging; a part of the original garden had displays of exotic plants (which no longer exist) a ‘Ragnaria’ where wild birds were netted and a mount built on top of two ancient temples representing Mount Parnassus, this was topped by a Pegasus thereby inferring that Ferdinand di Medici was the patron inspiring the muses.

Possibly the most interesting and beautiful of the things to be found here is a study built for Ferdinand as a sanctuary from his busy ecclesiastical life, the upper walls and ceiling are frescoed with plants, flowers birds and animals showing his true love of nature.  His career as a Cardinal ended when his brother unexpectedly died and he returned to Florence as Grand Duke in 1587.

The image of the cat shows a real sense of humour

When I saw my garden on Sunday I was amazed by how things had changed in just three days, more about this, the greenhouse and the vegetable garden soon.