May 292016
 

Copper water bowl in Nick Bailey's garden for Winton Capital, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Like many people, I don’t have room for a pond in my garden. But I would love to get some water in somehow and had a long chat with Waterside Nursery at the Chelsea Flower Show. They sell lots of plants suitable for ponds in pots on patios, in sun or shade. I’m going to start saving up…

In the meantime, I can dream about two water features from Chelsea this year: the beautiful copper bowl by sculptor Giles Raynor in Nick Bailey’s garden for Winton Capital – beautiful and mesmerising. And Cleve West’s rock pool, which was used as a bird bath by local birds, as his Instagram film shows.

Bird bath in Cleve West's garden for M&G Investments, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016

May 252016
 

Winton-Capital

They’re already calling the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 a vintage year – and I’m inclined to agree. The show gardens were quite diverse compared to some years, and there seemed to be a joyfulness about the place. There was much to enjoy and admire.

Much has already been blogged, Tweeted and Instagrammed about the show, but here are my four favourite gardens.

Nick Bailey’s garden for Winton Capital was my joint Best in Show. It just looked so different, full of plants I wasn’t familiar with, and was unlike anything I’ve seen before at Chelsea. On the plans, the hard landscaping looked quite prominent but in the flesh it was subtle and allowed the plants to shine. I’m intrigued to know why it didn’t get a Gold medal (it got a silver gilt) – because of the plant associations, maybe?

Winton-2

Cleve West‘s show gardens never disappoint, and this was my second Best in Show. The M&G Garden was based on memories of Exmoor, where Cleve lived for a while in his teens, but wasn’t a pastiche of it – it didn’t use native plants, for example. I loved the way it evolved into from a rugged landscape to a more obvious garden, while using the same stone, sawn rough and smooth. I also loved the rock ‘pools’ and the incredibly natural planting, which looked like it had always been there.

Cleve

I also really liked Ann-Marie Powell’s garden. It wasn’t a show garden but the official RHS garden for Health, Happiness and Horticulture. Residents of a London estate helped to build it, and it will have a permanent home there after the show. Community gardens can have a a certain look but this really breaks the mould – I’d love to have this on my doorstep.

Anne-Marie-Powell

And who didn’t love the Senri-Sentei garage garden? It was just so cute, and an inspired idea.

Garage-garden

 

And big up to Juliet Sargeant for a creating a garden with a message that was instantly readable and thought-provoking. We’re often invited to think hard about tricky subjects at flower shows – from bladder problems to terminal illnesses – and they can be horribly clumsy. Juliet’s Modern Slavery garden got its message across in a devastatingly simple manner – and was beautiful too.

 

 

Juliet-Sargeant

 

May 222015
 

Alliums

I was at the Chelsea Flower Show on Monday, for press day, and saw very little of it as I was working in the Great Pavilion. I had half an hour for lunch, and tried to see as much as I could in the wind and rain, but when I got home I realised that I’d missed huge swathes of it. Mind you, I always seem to miss part of the show even when I have more free time, as my sense of direction is so lousy.

As ever, I was looking for planting inspiration for my own garden. Several of the gardens had orange and rust-coloured flowers such as verbascums, geums and irises, often planted with dark plums and bright blue – a combination that wasn’t really my bag. The planting in The Time In Between garden most closely reflected my hopes for the border in my own garden, which seems to have developed a dark pink, purple, pale lemon, white and green theme. I’ve got some box balls, alliums, foxgloves, and a small, multi-stemmed Cercis canadensis ‘Avondale*’, which in 20 years might look as impressive as this magnolia. It made me realise that I could do with some grey-leaved plants to add some contrast (and the advice of a Chelsea designer to bring it all together).

Angelica
The planting was quite similar in several of the gardens (all that orange), so the Front Garden by newbie Sean Murray, winner of the The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge, was a breath of fresh air – its predominantly yellow planting looked really good against the slate.

Dan-Pearson

And of course I liked Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth-inspired garden – didn’t everybody? I’m not massively keen on representations of existing gardens, but it had unusual shrubs and perennials that you don’t usually see in Chelsea show gardens. And it’s nice to know that it will have a life beyond the show. It was a bugger to photograph, though.

Picnic-garden

And finally, I loved The Sculptor’s Picnic Garden. It had a lovingly crafted feel to it, and it showed that you can use natural materials to create structure and focus, without splashing out thousands on a sculpture.

*Yes, I got one. The Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-Mai’ is about to be moved…

May 232014
 

 

Cleve West's garden at Chelsea 2014

I went to Chelsea this year seeking inspiration for my own garden – a first for me. It was great to be able to wander around the Great Pavilion, knowing that I could actually use the plants in my own garden if I wanted. My favourite garden was by Cleve West, especially the gravel section – not that I could recreate that in the soggy West Country.

Marilyn Abbott's topiarist garden at Chelsea 2014

I also really liked Marilyn Abbot’s Topiarist’s Garden (below). I loved the cool greenness of it. And the fact that a lot was crammed into a small space, without it feeling cramped.

Amelanchier canadensis in Laurent Perrier garden

I’m on the lookout for a multi-stemmed shrub or tree for my main border, and the Amelanchier canadensis above (in Luciano Giubbilei’s garden for Laurent Perrier) comes highly recommended by James Alexander-Sinclair as a tree for all seasons. It’s on sale at my local garden so maybe I’ll go for it.

Rose, peony and grass in the Positively Stoke on Trent garden

I loved this dark pink rose, peony and box ball, lightened by the airy grass in the Positively Stoke-on-Trent garden.

Geranium phaeum and euphorbia

A friend has given me lots of Geranium phaeum, which I’m planning on using in the shady side of the garden. It looked great mixed with euphorbia and purple-leaved plants.

Vikings

This year there was a refreshing lack of young ladies wearing only body paint to promote the gardens. I failed to match my celeb- spotting nirvana of Chelsea 2012, when I got up close and personal with Gwyneth Paltrow. Instead I saw Esther Rantzen rush up to a Chelsea Pensioner, presumably to interview him. (Esther (gushingly): ‘Hi!! Are you Jack?!!!!’. Chelsea Pensioner (coolly): ‘No.’). The highlight of my day was meeting some Vikings. They told us all about the battles they take part in, the injuries they’ve sustained, and how to hold a sword correctly. You wouldn’t mess with them, I can tell you.

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Jul 142013
 
HamptonCt

Athanasia Garden

After the refinement of Chelsea, the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is rather an assault on the senses. The sponsors’ messaging in the show gardens can be very in your face – a couple of years ago there was a giant pink tap to highlight the problem of weak bladders, and this year there was a giant washing up bottle lid and lots of bright recycled plastic in the (otherwise nice) Ecover garden. The planting often includes lots of clashing hot summer colours and it’s all too garish for me.

The Athanasia show garden was my favourite by a long chalk. It had really minimal hard landscaping (a big plus in my book), and a cool palette of shade-loving plants. It looked peaceful and inviting and like it had been there for a very long time.

I found out afterwards that the garden was inspired by the memory of Emma Peios, a garden photographer who died last year. I never knew Emma, but I know lots of people who did and were very saddened by her death. The garden was designed by Emma’s friend, David Sarton, and given her middle name, Athanasia. I’m sure this garden is a very fitting tribute to her.

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May 252013
 
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The Brewin Dolphin garden

What I like doing best at Chelsea is looking for ideas that I could replicate in my own garden one day. And as I may finally have one (fingers crossed – it’s all going through at the moment), this was a year when I could actually walk around noting ideas that I could actually put into practice. Hurrah!

There were quite a few roses around this year, and I liked the informal, lax habit of the Rosa rugosa in the Brewin Dolphin garden (above).

The Telegraph Garden

The Telegraph Garden

I liked Christopher Bradley-Hole’s garden but felt I’d seen many elements of it before – the multi-stemmed trees, blocks of box and yew, the meadowy planting, the cow parsley… Not only in previous Chelsea gardens but also at the Canal House in Amsterdam last year. That said, I love a multi-stemmed tree, neatly clipped box, and a bit of meadowy planting, and would definitely like to include them in my own garden.

Homebase_edited-1

The Homebase Garden

I also the loved the way that edible and ornamental plants were mingled together in Adam Frost’s ‘Sowing the Seeds of Change’ garden for Homebase. I will definitely be doing this – I want to cram in as many edibles as possible.

Bench_edited-1

Un Garreg (One Stone) garden

I loved this simple oak bench in the Un Garreg (One Stone) garden. It may look simple but I bet it cost a small fortune.

Get Well Soon garden

Get Well Soon garden

The pebble path in the Healing Garden was designed to be walked on barefoot, stimulating reflexology pressure points.

pond_edited-2

Get Well Soon garden

Ponds scare me. They look complicated to get right, and I’ve seen a lot of bad ones. But this looks really doable – it’s shallow (so not too much digging) and the pebbles cover a multitude of sins.

NSPCC Garden of Magical Childhood

NSPCC Garden of Magical Childhood

And for sheer flight of fancy, who could resist this kids’ treehouse in the NSPCC garden? I think it made everyone want to be a kid again.

So there you have it. This time next year I may be the proud owner of a garden that contains some multi-stemmed trees, blocks of box and yew, some meadowy planting, lots of edibles, a pond and a reflexology path. And a treehouse, obviously.
May 212013
 
Japanese3_edited-1

An Alcove (Tokonoma) Garden

Every show garden at Chelsea tells a story – usually one that’s dictated by the sponsor. Often it reflects a landscape,  an environmental issue, or a charitable cause. There’s rarely a garden without an agenda of some kind, which is a shame. The best gardens manage to nod to the sponsor’s brief while basically sidestepping it – I’d never have guessed that Roger Platts’ M&G Centenary Garden was reflecting 100 years of gardening features, and it was all the better for it.

I never read the blurb that I’m handed about a garden. To be honest, I’m not interested in the story it’s trying to tell, or the ‘journey’ that it’s taking me on. Much as I care about some of the issues represented, I just want to look at a show garden and decide how it makes me feel. Do I love it? Does it inspire me? Could I wake up to it every day? Could I try some of those planting combinations at home? Are there elements of the design that I could emulate one day?

On that basis, here are my two favourites.

I’m never going to plant a Japanese garden, but I could happily wake up to An Alcove (Toknonoma) Garden by the Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory (above). It represents an alcove in a traditional Japanese tatami room, and in Japanese culture, people often meet with important people in such spaces. As I was taking pics, Cleve West was invited by the designer into the alcove – lucky (and important) chap.

The planting in Chris Beardshaw’s Arthritis Research UK Garden (below) stood out for being refreshingly different. There was an abundance of meadowy planting in many of the other gardens (I was cow parsleyed-out by the end of the day and think I might have gone off that style of planting a bit), but this garden had lots of zinging colour, and plants that weren’t found elsewhere (eg lupins, foxtail lilies and Echium pininana). I loved the splodges of Pittosporum tobira that acted like full stops at the end of the borders – a nice alternative to the ubiquitous box balls. I went back to look at the garden several times, and that’s always a good sign.

In other news, I went home with a red face. For once I hadn’t put my foot in it (or if I had, I hadn”t realised it) but had managed to get sunburn. Or was it windburn? Many other people said that their cheeks were also burning. How on earth did that happen on a chilly, cloudy and not-especially-windy day?

Arthritis Research UK Garden

Arthritis Research UK Garden

Jul 032012
 


The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is very different to its older, cooler, classier sister, the Chelsea Flower Show. Personally, I prefer Chelsea for its sheer unattainable perfection, but Hampton Court comes at a more interesting time of year plant-wise so the gardens, while more modest, look more varied. You can buy plants, children are welcomed, and there are plenty of places to put your feet up.

Some of the exhibits and stands seemed a little off the mark for 2012: do people seriously buy hot tubs and savannah-style lodges during a recession (and in the worst summer in living memory)? But there was lots of grow-your-own inspiration (after a notable absence of anything edible at Chelsea), and a new area of urban planting ideas.

There was also a ‘High Impact, Low Cost’ category of gardens created on a small budget. I heard several people mutter that budgets of £7K, £10K and £13K are not exactly ‘low’, but I liked the spirit behind these gardens. They were all an average size and showed what you can do with a bit of ambition and a willingness to forgo a traditional lawn.

My favourite was ‘A Compromising Situation’ by Twigs Gardens (above). It wasn’t at all flash or fancy, just a simple layout that broke the garden into sections. It squeezed in two seating areas, a pond, lawns, lots of plants (including wildlife-friendly ones) and a meandering path. Classic design textbook stuff, and perfect for any smallish garden. I’m going to bear this vision in mind when an estate agent next shows me around a house with a small garden that I’m struggling to see the potential of.


Many of the grow-your-own exhibitors had eschewed the ‘harvest festival’ look this year. If I had more space here I’d show you the Garlic Farm stand, which was a delight – garlic and leek flowers mixing with cow parsley etc in a meadowy, billowy mass – or the Seeds of Italy display which took its inspiration from the Italian Alps.

But instead I’ll bring you the Otter Farm stand (above), a ‘forest garden’ created by Mark Diacono. It had a few plants that you might recognise – eg apricots and lemon verbena – and many more unfamilar delights, such as a Szechuan pepper tree (very pretty), Oca (Oxalis tuberosa), the rhubarb-like sweet coltsfoot, (Petasites japonicus var. giganteus) and Japanese ginger (Zingiber mioga, whose name I think Mark might have made up). The stand was original and refreshing and I wanted to buy all of it.


I fell in love with my friend Mark’s garden, A Coral Desert (above), before I realised his company designed it. Cacti and succulents were used to create a ‘coral reef’, housed within a walk-in blue box. I almost expected the plants to wave around gently in the water, that’s how realistic it was. A genius idea that won a Silver Gilt.


Dan Shea, who you last saw on this blog shaking Camilla Parker-Bowles’ hand at the Oranges & Lemons garden for the Chelsea Fringe, designed the ‘Uprising’ garden (above). It was inspired by the riots in Tottenham, where Dan lives. Orange and yellow have most definitely been Dan’s signature colours this year, and late last week he was still driving around the country trying to source flame-coloured plants such as Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ and Asphodeline liburnica (Jacob’s Rod). Luckily he found them, and he won a Silver medal for his efforts.


Last but not least, the prize for ‘best bench’ must surely go to the Edible Bus Stop garden. If the designer, Will Sandy, hasn’t patented the idea already, then he should. It could catch on…

May 242012
 

 


Unless you’ve been living in a cupboard under the stairs, you’ll know that the Chelsea Flower Show is taking place at the moment. I went on Monday, on press day. It’s a privilege to walk into the  showground early in the morning, the air heady with anticipation, and to glimpse the show gardens for the first time. I’ll admit that I’m more interested in the show gardens than I am in the displays in the Great Pavilion. Maybe that will change when I get my own garden, as I might actually be in the market for buying some plants.

This year, the must-have plant seemed to be cow parsley. A colleague quipped that he spends most of his life trying to keep it out of his garden. There was a very high box ball and topiary quota, too. Some of the big gardens on the Main Avenue looked a tad similar, with lots of naturalistic, romantic planting – a reaction to the double-dip recession maybe? Or a homage to the big Chelsea cheese and gold medal winner Tom Stuart-Smith? And oddly, there was very little grow-your-own in comparison to the last few years, so maybe that bubble is beginning to burst.

This year, I decided I’d ‘judge’ the gardens on whether I’d like to wake up looking at them every day. My favourites are below. I wouldn’t actually want Diarmuid Gavin’s creation (above) outside my back door, but it was most definitely fun. Due to vertigo issues I only got halfway up, but it was great being able to set foot in a show garden, especially one that involved ladders, waterfalls and slides.

And then, of course, there were the celebrities. I’ve come to the conclusion that spotting celebs on press day at Chelsea is a bit like going on safari. On safari you’re told what you might see – zebras, lions, elephants etc – and you really, really want to tick them off your list. At Chelsea, you’re given a list of the celebrities who may be present (Christopher Biggins, Floella Benjamin and Ringo Starr are usually guaranteed), and you really, really want to tick them off the list. You get jealous if someone has seen someone you haven’t, even if they’re a bit Z-list, and get over excited if you spot anyone at all (my colleague Jane, visiting Chelsea for the first time, cried: ‘Oh my god, it’s JENNIE BOND!!!!’. We haven’t let her live that one down).

If you get wind of a crowd gathering, see some flashbulbs going off, or hear a rumour that someone off the telly is nearby, you hotfoot it there indecently quickly, camera or smartphone held aloft and sharp elbows at the ready. This is what happened when I heard Gwyneth Paltrow was in the vicinity last year, and the same thing happened this year with Sir Cliff Richard. I’m not proud of it and I don’t know why I did it, but there’s a pic of him at the bottom of this post anyway.

The Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust garden by Joe Swift

There was a lot going on in Joe Swift’s garden compared to others on the Main Avenue, but it was ordered, welcoming, contemporary and considered. I’d seen some drawings beforehand and the garden didn’t look particularly inspiring, so the finished result was a surprise. All the years commenting on other people’s show gardens for the BBC have obviously paid off.

The Brewin Dolphin garden by Cleve West

I sat on Cleve’s bench for a few moments with a bunch of other hacks. I loved the planting  – naturalistic but with lots of pops of colour. Apparently there was some red, white and blue to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but it was very subtle.

Celebration of Caravanning by Jo Thompson

Jo Thompson’s garden was an inspiration for anyone with a small space. She used mature birch trees, Betula albosinensis  ‘Fascination’, which were perfectly shaped and not remotely overpowering – perfect for a town garden. And who wouldn’t want Doris (the 1950s caravan) at the bottom of their garden?

The Bradstone Panache garden

More inspiration for small gardens. The clever layout included a path that was a continuous curve, leading to a seat. The sweep of alpine strawberries (on the right) was a nice touch.

Satoyama Life

This Japanese masterpiece invited you to just stand and gaze at it. Which I did, for a long time.

The World Vision Garden

Lots of hard landscaping and tree ferns isn’t really my thing, but the underplanting was really pretty in this garden, in shades of purple and orange. I couldn’t really do it justice in this pic.

A national treasure