May 212013
 
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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…