All you could wish to see

Peter Dow­dall re­ports from a small scale but gold medal-strewn Chelsea Flower Show ‘17

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - In The Garden -

We don’t have them in Ire­land but Mag­gie’s Cen­tres, which you will find through­out the UK, pro­vide emo­tional and so­cial sup­port to peo­ple suf­fer­ing from cancer. Dar­ren Hawkes de­signed a gar­den for this year’s Chelsea Flower Show which was in­spired by Mag­gie Keswick, who founded these cen­tres.

She un­der­stood the need to have a ded­i­cated gar­den space as a place for pa­tients to es­cape from the ster­ile en­vi­ron­ment of a hos­pi­tal — a place to find so­lace. Dar­ren’s gar­den at Chelsea cer­tainly achieved all that it should — sur­rounded by a three me­tre high Horn­beam hedge, it was pretty unique in terms of Chelsea Show Gar­dens, in that you couldn’t see into it.

In­stead you were en­cour­aged to walk up above the hedges and en­ter the gar­den, again a bit dif­fer­ent for Chelsea, where nor­mally the gar­dens are strictly not open to wan­der­ers. He cre­ated a sanc­tu­ary, a place to be alone with one’s thoughts — well in so far as you can be at a show like this — which is im­por­tant to all of us, but par­tic­u­larly when deal­ing with an ill­ness.

The hard land­scap­ing here was all made from Basalt­based con­crete. It was treated in three dif­fer­ent ways to cre­ate va­ri­ety, but at the same time, be­ing con­tin­u­ous. In places it was highly pol­ished, in oth­ers it was acid etched and also left with bro­ken edges.

The plant­ing then was so soft it acted as the per­fect foil to the hard­scap­ing. Lush peren­ni­als such as Hostas, Rodger­sias and Thal­ic­trums were all po­si­tioned amongst the roses and paeonies be­neath a huge Ame­lanchier.

For me this gar­den was the star of Chelsea 2017, as it cre­ated an en­clave where one could go and get lost in thought and en­joy time out with per­fect stan­dards of de­sign and qual­ity that is es­sen­tial in a Chelsea Show Gar­den. I was de­lighted on Tues­day morn­ing to see this gar­den achieved the cov­eted Gold Medal stan­dard.

With all show gar­dens and good gar­den de­sign, there will be one theme or idea used in hard land­scap­ing ma­te­ri­als or a plant­ing pal­ette — it isn’t al­ways that no­tice­able or dra­matic but one gar­den that took that prin­ci­ple to heart was one of the smaller cre­ations — ‘Be­neath a Mex­i­can Sky’. The colour or­ange was ev­ery­where — on the walls, in the plants, Geums, Os­teosper­mums and more and the theme was con­tin­ued with Agaves, which of­fered dra­matic struc­ture.

M&G are the main spon­sors of this gar­den as well as the larger M&G Gar­den by James Bas­son, which achieved Gold and Best in Show for bring­ing Malta to SW3. Like many coun­tries, Malta is fac­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges of water scarcity, waste dis­posal and com­post­ing and the gar­den is meant to il­lus­trate this, within a quarry cre­ated with large Mal­tese lime­stone pil­lars. The re­main­ing space is bro­ken into ar­eas which il­lus­trate how na­ture will al­ways re­colonise what is left un­tended and how na­ture adapts to suit what man cre­ates.

“Wel­come to York­shire” cre­ated a small bit of its coast­line in Cen­tral Lon­don and it worked a charm. I was in­stantly trans­ported to a place far away from the throngs of the show by a small a row­ing boat, com­plete with bob­bing buoys, in a lit­tle in­let flanked by coastal plant­ing. De­sig­ber, Tracy Fos­ter won a gilt for this evoca­tive gar­den.

Chelsea Gold medals aren’t handed out too freely, stan­dards are high and of course that’s what makes this the world’s great­est gar­den show, one where ev­ery­body wants to win, but this year there were four out of eight tak­ing Gold home. Char­lotte Har­ris won for the first time in her own right, (she’s worked on other gar­dens in the past), with her Royal Bank of Canada gar­den. ‘Break­ing Ground’ for Dar­win Prop­erty In­vest­ment Man­age­ment also scored a gold for An­drew Wil­son and Gavin Mcwilliam

The Silk Road Gar­den, in­spired by the an­cient Ching Sku king­dom got its plant­ing just right. Can­de­labra Prim­u­las were planted down on the mar­gins by water which is their nat­u­ral habi­tat, and as the gar­den moved back into dap­pled shade be­neath the trees, Rhodo­den­drons mixed with the beau­ti­ful blue Me­conop­sis be­toni­ci­fol­lia are used here in ex­actly the right place.

I did leave the show on Mon­day evening won­der­ing if any of the gar­dens this year would get Gold, there have been years in the past when no Gold medals were awarded.

On Tues­day morn­ing though, I saw that four were awarded, while two gar­dens re­ceived Sil­ver Gilts, in­clud­ing the Silk Road Gar­den. For many, Chelsea is all about the show gar­dens on Main Av­enue and these are the su­per­mod­els of the hori­cul­tural world. For oth­ers, it’s the smaller Ar­ti­san and Fresh Gar­dens which are what it’s about.

The trade ex­hibits here too, are of the high­est stan­dard and I know many who travel just to pur­chase from the same com­pa­nies year af­ter year. Per­haps it’s the Flo­ral De­sign Stu­dio that you travel for, but for me it’s all about the Great Pav­il­ion. The ef­fect doesn’t lessen as time goes on and the stan­dard of the dis­plays is be­yond any­thing you’d see any­where else.the plants on show are all you could ever wish to see—hanging from the roof, sculp­tures made from cut flow­ers — dis­plays that wouldn’t be out of place in the Tate Gallery. The magic never fades and this year the Pav­il­ion was as good, if not bet­ter than ever.

■ See a range of more images and video taken by our Chief Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher, Dan Line­han, at Chelsea this week,

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