I arrived totally unsuitably dressed due to the heat and was swiftly made to return to my car where fortunately I had the appropriate footwear to change into out of sandals into and pick up a hi-visibility jacket – although my version of the jacket is thick and has sleeves which meant a sweaty day ahead, writes garden designer, Claudia de Yong
The show ground was a true hive of activity. Designers, builders, security, caterers, florists, nurserymen and trucks were still frantically busy dodging BBC camera crew, photographers and other stall holders all trying to finish their displays.
As I walked in from the Embankment side, I was surprised by the large Eden Project garden, Places of Change, which was not only colourful but also had a similar greenhouse to two of the school gardens at Malvern. They too had constructed a greenhouse out of plastic bottles. Who is teaching who?! But many homeless people were involved with this garden and there was a great sense of camaraderie amongst the gardeners.
I then came across a familiar face, Mark Gregory who has designed a larger garden this year for The Children’s Society. A departure from his front to back theme of the last two years, this is a garden for teenagers and mine would love it - with a bubbling hot tub, a working outdoor oven and lovely oak framed seating area with sedum roof.
Across the way is James Wong with his Maylasian Tourism garden. A similar version of his two previous show gardens but larger and with more lush exotic planting and a living wall. Very structural with clear cut lines and water.
The heat was really intense today and even though I arrived early, it wasn’t possible due to all the TV cameras to see everything and some gardens were yet to be completed. However, I couldn’t miss the HESCO large Lock Gate with water gushing from the middle created by Leeds City Council with a wonderful re-creation of a section of the Leeds Liverpool Canal.
I also couldn’t miss the large Blue Aviary, in the Victorian Aviary Garden designed by Phillipa Pearson and John Denby. Bright colourful planting to the front sits either side of a wide mosaic path with a bird in the centre.
Across the way, The Daily Telegraph Garden designed by Andy Sturgeon was still being ‘finished’. I could just about see the mix of exotic and familiar native planting in between the ten steel screens which slice through the garden. The Foreign Colonial Garden designed by Thomas Hoblyn was also being finished but I was able to glimpse at this interpretation of the 18th Century garden in one of Voltaire’s novels. There are two pools and a scalloped flowform designed to mimic the rapids.
The L’Occitane Garden designed by James Towiliss, is built on a slope as much of the landscape is in the hills in Provence. James had trouble finding lavender in flower for the show but it seemed one of the seventy people looking for it was successful! A small shed is cleverly perched among what looks like stone but is in fact a man made product. Water cascades on one side over cut drainpipe and large Olive trees give the garden a sense of place.
The Laurent Perrier garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith has a large contemporary bronze pavilion and it is interesting that a great deal of the larger show gardens, have equally large structures. Vast cloud pruned buxus balls and soft spring woodland planting overlook an elongated pool. A wall of natural stone surrounds the garden on two sides.
On the two corners of the main avenue are completely contrasting gardens. The M&G garden, main sponsors of Chelsea, designed by Roger Platts and The Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory Garden.
Roger Platt’s has created his usual stunning English garden, full of rambling roses, pergolas, lush planting and reclaimed brick paths. At the centre is an Oak Building which marries well with the circular pond at the front. An old animal trough serves as an added water feature and benches are placed around the garden for different viewpoints.
The Japanese garden opposite, Kazahana which means ‘ A light snow flurry from a cloudless sky’, represents what may be found between buildings and helps to keep out everyday stresses. It is so cleverly thought through and planted with every surface being totally covered in planting. Running water helps to ease the ‘urban heat island effect’ and is used with great precision.
A bit further along are many smaller garden which were all inaccessible due to lorries but leaping out was another wonderful offering by Fleming Nurseries. Scott Wynd has produced what we all imagine Australians have – a great outdoor living room with swimming pool, spa and out door kitchen with a lounge area all in lush surroundings.
After walking for ages in the sweltering heat and taking as many pictures as I could, I went round to Ranelagh Gardens to look at the smaller gardens there. A real mixture of contemporary and tradition gardens sit next to each other and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw three ladies in traditional costumes from the African Continent building a hut from sticks with one yielding a machete to cut the wood! Where was health and safety and how on earth did she get that knife past security when I was sent back to change my open toe sandals!!
I wasn’t able to linger long here as I had to rush into the marquees before having to leave the show to go to a client. I wish I had stayed all morning in the marquee as the temperature was much more pleasant and the smell was wonderful. The largest stand in the tent is the Hillier garden and other smaller displays around it were all frantically rushing to finish their exhibits.
I have omitted some of the larger gardens and all the smaller ones without intending to but time wasn’t on my side, but I hope I have given you a taste of the show and if you are going this week and are lucky enough to have a ticket as they are all sold out, take comfortable shoes, lots of water and look out for a machete!
Claudia de Yong
Image 1. Roger Platts M&G garden
Image 2. HESCO Lock Gate