All you could wish to see
Peter Dowdall reports from a small scale but gold medal-strewn Chelsea Flower Show ‘17
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,