Chelsea Flower Show 2013 gardens

by Rhiannon James

The Telegraph Garden

The grande dame of flower shows might be 100 this year but amidst all the nostalgic montages and heritage displays, she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve yet. We take a look at the most interesting gardens with an urban theme.

The Olympic effect


East Village garden

The glow of last summer’s success can still be felt on warm days in the capital and Marie-Louise Agius and Michael Balston will be hoping to capture that golden feeling in their Olympic Park-inspired East Village Garden (MA19). The design echoes the sinuous curves of the Park and the River Lee as seen from the air, while a balcony jutting out over the garden adds to the sense of a landscape overseen. Where the Park though was celebrated for its vibrantly-coloured meadows and perennial planting, the focus in this garden is on shrubs. “In an urban environment, people often don’t have time to have very heavily herbaceous gardens,” says Marie-Louise. “Hopefully people will see some of the plants and think they’re unusual and interesting, they’ve got good form, texture and foliage and could be something that would work well in their urban garden.” Some of the stand-out shrubs include towering Rhododendron ‘Macabeanum’, Fothergilla major, Pinus wallichiana and Enkianthus campanulatus.  Marie-Louise is also keen to point out that while the design is inspired by the Stratford area and its history – the glasshouse-like seating area references Lee Valley’s past as a centre of market gardening – East Village also works as an urban garden in its own right.

Tune in . . .  .


Digital Capabilities

Technology is gradually advancing out of the home into the garden with outdoor TVs, computers and sound systems all now available but rarely does it go as far as in Paul and Tom Harfleet’s quirky twitter-controlled garden (Digital Capabilities, FR7). While part of their planting is open to view, the rest is enclosed in a space-age –style white box, glimpses of which are revealed by panels that move in response to tweets containing the hashtags garden or RHSChelsea.  “Someone in China or Australia can therefore have a direct influence on our garden,” say Paul and Tom. The hidden garden is exotic and jungle-like to represent the new, undiscovered worlds accessible through the internet. The garden also has its own Twitter account – send a tweet saying ‘snap’ to @DigCapabilities and you’ll get a photo from a secret camera hidden inside the garden.

 . . . and tune out


The Sound Of Silence

While the Digital Capabilities garden is all about connections across the globe, Fernando Gonzalez’s The Sound Of Silence (FR22) looks at the role of gardens in shaping our inner world. Hot on the heels of Selfridge’s Silence Room, sound-cancelling headphones will be available to help visitors achieve a meditative state while viewing this minimalist garden, which was inspired by a visit to the Ry?an-ji zen gardens in Kyoto. There’s likely to be no shortage of noise about this ultimate-in-low-maintenance design though as, in stark contrast to the sea of greenery surrounding it, it contains only one plant – a metre-high, 60-year-old Japanese White Pine bonsai and the mountains are made from acrylic stone. “I have taken the traditional elements of a Japanese garden but then I have applied new technologies and new materials. Everything was made on the computer and the shape was created with a programme they use for special effects in Hollywood,” says Fernando.

Take a look too at Martin Cook’s Mindfulness Garden (FR6) which provides a different take on the current craze for Eastern-inspired meditation.

Going Native

For the last few years, native planting has been synonymous with meadows, a tricky look to pull off in an urban back garden. But the designs at Chelsea this year are showing a different way. Robert Myers’ Brewin Dolphin city garden (MA21), for  example, has a modernist look, it just happens to be planted predominantly with British native species. As Robert says, a design using indigenous plants “doesn’t have to look like a nature reserve, it can be quite formal and quite colourful.” Structure is provided by pleached Acer campestre (field maple) and box balls while the ethereal planting below combines Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ (cow parsley), Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Pixie Fountain’ (tufted hair grass), Silene dioica (red campion) and three geranium species amongst others.  “The filigree effect works well because you’ve got quite a strong, geometric layout and the rather loose, billowy planting is a nice counterpoint,” says Robert. Meanwhile, in The Telegraph Garden (MA18) Christopher Bradley-Hole balances soft meadow-style planting with strong geometrical blocks of native box, yew and beech to represent the evolution of the British landscape from richly-wooded land to cultivated fields.


Brewin Dolphin city garden (L) and The Telegraph Garden (R)

Hard-working plants


Stockton Drilling’s “As Nature Intended” Garden

Vegetable plots are scarce in Chelsea gardens this year, perhaps in response to the slowing interest in GYO, but plants with a purpose are still very much on the agenda. The most striking example of this is Jamie Dunstan’s Stockton Drilling’s “As Nature Intended” Garden. Although every species in his design has a use to mankind, there are three star plants which are used to dramatic effect. Angular structures made from the fluid shapes of woven willow (used for furniture, fencing, fuel and more) and yew hedging (used in medicine) are surrounded by a field of winter barley (a key ingredient in brewing). The golden tinge to the grain gives the whole garden a rather lovely uplit effect. “It’s a very contemporary garden but with natural, traditional materials and craftsmanship,” says Jamie.


Get Well Soon

Amongst the artisan gardens, Kati Crome and Maggie Hughes have created Get Well Soon (SW8) a medicinal garden for the National Botanic Garden of Wales which includes everything from Euphorbias to Euonymus, not to mention a pebble path designed to stimulate reflexology pressure points. Jackie Setchfield and Martin Anderson’s A Hebridean Weaver’s Garden (SW6) for the Motor Neurone Disease Association meanwhile, centres around dye plants including vegetables such as onion ‘Alisa Craig’, cabbage ‘Durham Early’ and carrot ‘Autumn King’.

While potagers may not be as popular at Chelsea this year, Adam Frost is still flying the flag for food-growing with a family garden that mixes edible and ornamental planting (The Homebase Garden –”Sowing the Seeds of Change” MA20). “The grow your own trend scared a lot of people – they’ve ended up with a vegetable patch at the end of their garden that they’re petrified of because it didn’t work in the first year,” says Adam. “Doing it this way, you can do as little or as much as you want. We grow ornamental rhubarb, we grow edible rhubarb, we grow ornamental currants, we grow edible currants, so why not just put rhubarb in a border?” It’s hard to argue when presented with the sheer luscious abundance of this garden. Blossoming apple trees give an orchard feel, while shrubs such as medlars, quince and myrtle add structure and ornamentals, herbs and vegetables, in rich shades of blue, maroon and pink, froth and frolic below.

Greening the City


The Wasteland

Two gardens focus on the transformational power of planting in cities: these are Kate Gould’s garden The Wasteland (RHW4) and the RBC Blue Water Roof Garden (MA13) designed by Nigel Dunnett, who was one of the lead designers in the Olympic Park project. Kate’s design shows how, with a little ingenuity, the greyest piece of derelict land can be turned into a shady sanctuary for the whole community. “Before we put the planting in, someone came past and said it looked like Prisoner Cell Block H,” says Kate and although that sounds critical, it captures the point of the design. In the finished garden, the harsh concrete landscape of an old water-pumping works, complete with corrugated steel panels and old timber, is softened and brought to life by a delicate palette of woodland plants. Another interesting facet of the garden is that nothing has been wasted in this wasteland  – shopping trolleys, mattress innards and flattened washing machine drums all make surprisingly decorative fencing and wall panels, while half an old rolltop bath tub has been transformed into a rather elegant armchair.


RBC Blue Water Roof Garden

While Kate’s design tackles derelict urban spaces, Nigel Dunnett’s garden is all about exploiting the still relatively untapped potential of city roofs. This high-rise haven is a world away though from the rather dreary carpets of sedums that pop up on the tops of everything from office blocks to bird boxes. There is a sky meadow; there is a wetland to capture and recycle rainwater run-off; there is a hide and there is some rather beautiful woodland planting. Like The Wasteland garden, much is made of things that come with the territory – cooling vents and air-conditioning units are used to create homes for insects and other creatures. Look out too for the rather nifty low-maintenance green wall made from terracotta pots.


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