My second Journal entry featuring Chelsea illustrates more of the inspiration gleaned from the day; some predictable and other things, probably a little less!
The Cloudy Bay Garden in association with Vital Earth by designers Harry and David Rich had some stunning planting combinations within a wine-coloured palette. I particularly liked the soft mix of perennials and was especially taken with a new Baptisia launched at the Show (Baptisia Decadence ‘Dark Chocolate’) – I have a feeling it will be finding its way into my schemes! I loved their use of the timber, slatted boundary detail and the stone seats (contrasting smooth, sawn material with rugged, more natural rock). The moving building was wonderfully simple and sculptural but I definitely preferred it in its position nearer the front of the garden. In this position it gave a different perspective to a Chelsea garden. So often the buildings are at the back of the space and – as such – seem to be a good backdrop but only properly visible by the Clients, the judges and the few lucky visitors. The position at the front of the space gave a solidity to the garden and allowed the planting and finer details to act as softer background decoration and this gave a completely different perspective to the usual, traditional layout. I also felt that when the moving building was positioned at the back of the space that the void left at the front was rather gaping; it felt incomplete and the scale – in my mind – fell out of sync and the garden lost its cohesive feeling.
The BBC/RHS collaborative garden was a lovely surprise. I must admit to some scepticism when I heard about the competition and thought it might have the result of downgrading the accolade of a Main Avenue garden. However, the winning design was positioned correctly (i.e. not judged for a Medal like the other spaces) and I believe that Sean Murray did a fantastic job in bringing something completely different to the Show. His colour palette was exquisite and the use of hard materials was really well executed. I loved some of the detail with the rusty cans and the solid timber posts. It was composed with chunky, raw materials but still felt light to the touch with small details that did not detract from the earthy, bold design.
The Time in Between garden by Australian, Charlie Albone had lovely moments although I – like the Judges I believe – struggled with the Protea in amongst the more traditional, native-style perennial planting. However, I loved his materials – the soft coloured stone and the Cotswold chipping and the area at the back of the garden with the tall, enclosing columns was superb. It was restful, private and a good alternative to the often used building as a place of sanctuary. The columns provided the height and solidity and ‘wrapping’ effect of a summerhouse or pavilion but the gaps between the verticals provided a welcome space for the plants to invade and interrupt the solidity of the ‘architecture’.
The The Brewin Dolphin Garden by Cornish Designer Darren Hawkes was another bold, fairly hard structural garden that worked because of the profusion of beautiful planting. His use of natural cornish stone contrasted with the precision of the cut slate was quite brave but I believe that the juxtaposition worked – possibly because of the planting between. The large piece of sculpture at the back of the garden was a fitting backdrop but I’m afraid that I agree with Joe Swift when he said that the planting around this element needed to be taller. The slate needed ‘grounding’ and I felt that it needed to look as if it was emerging from the ground rather than placed onto the ground. However, the garden as a whole was wonderful with its changing levels and its ‘floating’ steps and seating areas. Its position on the old ‘rock bank’ helped allow the designer to manipulate to the maximum these changes in height and I believe that it worked really successfully.
Matthew Wilson’s first foray into Chelsea gardens was superb in that it embraced the curve – something often missing in Main Avenue. I loved his planting touches and combinations and the deck was gorgeous with its sinuous lines and finish. If I was to be picky, I’d say that the wonderful seat was slightly too delicate for the rest of the garden and the planting at the back of the garden – again – needed to be slightly more full and more solid in scale. As a Chelsea designer who did not win the medal hoped for … I have sympathy in spades for this man! However, it was delightful and I could have easily sat and admired for a long time!
The People’s Choice Award, the Sentebale – Hope in Vulnerability by Matt Keightley had a real atmosphere about it. I believe that this was partly because of the colour palette and the material choices. Even in the shade of the day, the garden was clearly a space from another climate and another world. I really liked the design and the way that the route snaked throughout the space and I believe it was a very good manipulation of shape and form. It was the perfect space to raise awareness of the Prince’s charity and proof that Charity gardens with a ‘theme’ can be beautiful and well constructed whilst still communicating their message.
Inspiration comes from a variety of places and to sum up, I need to mention A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse by L’Occitane designed by James Basson. It was absolutely fantastic in design and execution. Evocative, emotional and satisfying in every way – it was one of my favourites. Here is a good time to mention the garden builders again. Peter Dowle did an amazing job in translating the dry, French landscape into a rather wind-swept Chelsea space. The attention to detail was clearly inspirational and the natural effect was superbly put together; made to look easy but – from experience – I know that this is probably the hardest effect to replicate. Chelsea plants and materials don’t really have the time to weather and relax on site so that they look believable but this space designed by a great artist and built by true professionals, managed in spades!
Two images that illustrate other elements in the show that I will take away as inspiration were the lovely timber and rusty metal walls used in the Alitex Trade Stand. They have used these elements before and I was taken with them then so was pleased to see some re-cycling and reutilisation in another show. I really like the solid, slightly industrial and weathered impression that they give and the contrast with the plants is very pleasing.
Finally, the Floristry competition in the Great Pavilion. Some of the exhibits were beautiful – especially the Alice in Wonderland-themed displays by Simon Lycett and co! However, I also really loved the set that acted as a backdrop to the designs. It wonderfully summed up the theme of the competition and was big, bold and scultpural!
The winning design by Laura Leong was a beautiful combination of skill, colour and flowers!