In Their Own Words: Chelsea designers talk about their urban gardens

by Rhiannon James

The Winds of Change Garden by Jamie Dunstan, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

If you’d like to find out more about the urban gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, who better to hear about them from, than the designers themselves?


The Chilstone Garden

The Chilstone Garden by Heather Appleton, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

Heather Appleton has not shied away from the striking in her garden for Chilstone, which features a specially-made outdoor shag pile carpet, a garden pavilion and a resin cherub. She says:

“In a garden I always like to use something that’s a bit quirky or hasn’t been seen before. I was struggling to find a hook for this garden until I went to an exhibition where there was an ice sculptor at work. There were crowds gathered around and I thought – that’s the way forward. But of course, an ice sculpture is a logistical nightmare at Chelsea, so we took one of Chilstone’s sculptures that’s normally cast in stone, had it cast in clear resin and put ice cubes in the top so it looks like it’s melting. Once I had the hook everything else followed, so the idea is that the garden is a chilled out space. We’ve got the clear bubble chair and there’s a paddling pool so if it’s hot, people can have a little splash. The planting carries on the effect so the Luzula nivea, for example, is like a dusting of snow. I call it the marmite garden because either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it, you can’t sit on the fence.”

Favourite garden: “I like The B&Q Garden, that’s what I call a very tight garden, the detail is good. And in The Worcester, Bosch Group Garden, the detail is fabulous.”

Click here to see the plant list for this garden.

The RNIB Garden

The RNIB Garden by Paul Hervey-Brookes, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

The RNIB Garden has been created around the theme of touch, and includes a giant Braille wall poem written specially for the garden by children’s author Michael Rosen. After the show, the garden will form part of the outdoor space at the RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning, which provides care, education and therapies to children with sight problems. Its designer, Paul Hervey-Brookes, says:

“The RNIB said very strongly that they didn’t want a stereotypical, very safe, space for blind people. And the children were also keen that we included an element of risk because they wanted somewhere that was fun and engaging. One teenager said to me, “I’m blind, I’m not stupid”. That really opened my eyes to the fact that they didn’t want anything that felt like a slightly odd, removed world. Then I started thinking about everyday things that we’ve stopped noticing, like the feel of the things we walk on and sit on, and touch became our key message. We’ve included materials with textural qualities like hand-cut Cotswold stone, rough-cast concrete, granite and travertine. Scent came a bit further down the list. Too many different scents are actually really difficult to read, so we chose a few plants that are like secret scents – when you touch them, they release a fragrance. We’ve included plants like Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Spessart’, which has quite a spicy fragrance, that people may or may not like, but either way will start a conversation. The point of the garden is that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got sight or you haven’t got sight, because the whole focus is what you’re touching and also smelling.”

Trends at Chelsea this year: “Last year, planting was looser and more natural and that trend has carried on through to this year, except now, you can also see it in the way materials are being used. So before, you were seeing a lot of polished concrete and stone being used, whereas now people are trying to keep materials as close to their natural state as possible. So, for example, in The Daily Telegraph Garden, the columns still look incredibly natural. It’s all a bit more subtle, something you can look at and live with.”

Click here to see the plant list for this garden.

Lands’ End Across the Pond Garden

Lands’ End Across the Pond Garden by Adam Frost, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

The work of architect, Frank Lloyd Wright has influenced many elements of Adam Frost’s garden from the polished concrete pads cantilevered over a pool, to the wall of falling water. Frost says:

“I love all Frank Lloyd Wright’s work but I was also quite intrigued by his life – the connection he felt to nature and the fact that he was an architect who thought as much about the outside as he did about the inside. I started looking at the things he did using steel and concrete, things that really pushed boundaries at the time. And I thought that although we use a lot of steel now, we don’t use concrete that well in the UK, so that was how it all began. Then I developed the brief which was that a couple go off to North America, become inspired by Lloyd Wright’s work and want to create a garden inspired by that when they come home. So you’ve got to picture that they’ve got this cool-looking, open-plan house with a concrete floor inside the kitchen which then flows out into the garden. It’s all quite cool and there’s nothing in your face, it’s just a calm place to relax.

One of my favourite parts of the garden is the bench. Frank Lloyd Wright designed everything, he was even known to design earrings or dresses for his clients, but he designed furniture as well. The bench I designed for this garden is actually made up of seven triangular seats which you can play about with and actually use to seat quite a lot of people in this space.”

Favourite garden: “If I had to pick one, I would pick Cleve West’s. I love the idea of the garden but I also love the detail of the stonework and the way he’s put a twist on the planting in terms of the colours.”

Click here to see the plant list for this garden.

The Doncaster Deaf Trust Garden

The Doncaster Deaf Trust Garden by Graham Bodle, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

 This sensory garden for students and tutors at the Doncaster School and College for the Deaf, incorporates two secluded spaces with facing benches to help with signing, surrounded by planting which graduates from shade-lovers under the trees to more colourful planting in the sunnier, open spaces. Designer Graham Bodle says:

“I’ve used construction materials to give the garden an urban feel so there’s scaffolding poles there and the seats are made out of scaffolding board. I’ve also included elements to appeal to the four senses of taste, sight, touch and smell because other senses tend to be heightened when one is diminished.  So there are fruit trees that back the seats and alpine strawberries growing underneath for taste, I’ve got a splash of colour with the Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ and then the focal point of the garden is a sculpture called Touch. I’ve also got some lovely fragrant plants such as purple sage, lemon thyme and dwarf lavender. I’ve gone for a variety of leaf textures as well from the small, dainty leaves of the thyme to the large leaves of the hosta.”

Tip to take home: “We’ve used galvanised scaffold poles with decorative tops to train the fruit trees up. If you bought some fruit trees and trained them yourself, you could do the same thing in your garden for about £30.”

Favourite Garden: “It would have to be Luciano Giubbilei’s garden. It looks so simple and understated but when you move around it, the way it layers up is actually very complex.”

Click here to see the plant list for this garden.

The Winds of Change Garden

The Winds of Change Garden by Jamie Dunstan, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

A whole host of reclaimed items and materials have been given a new lease of life in Jamie Dunstan’s garden, which has been designed to be as sustainable as possible. Wind turbines, rainwater harvesting and a green roof all feature, surrounded by naturalistic planting that includes Nepeta, Trollius and Astrantia. He says:

“The main idea was to include wind turbines in the garden but because it’s a small space we couldn’t put a big turbine in there. So I had to create something, and I got the idea to use cooling fans because they work on the same principle. Then, because they were so industrial-looking, I decided to continue that theme throughout the garden. So the main structure is made from mild steel which we cleaned and polished. The structure has a green roof and the idea is to collect rainwater in the gutter which runs down the rain chain and into a water butt so it can be reused in the rest of the garden. To be as green as possible, there’s also lots of reclaimed materials in the garden. We came across the prison door on the internet and thought it suited the rest of the building really well, and added a bit of humour too. There’s also things like an old Victorian safe which is used as a garden store for small tools. We’ve tried to use the reclaimed materials in a way that still keeps their integrity. So the wood that we’ve used for the fence comes from a school gym and the marks are from the badminton courts or basketball courts. Rather than trying to take the markings off, and make the wood appear new, we wanted to keep them to give the garden more character. Then, to make all these things work together, we’ve gone for planting that is very relaxed and informal.”

Favourite Garden: “I like the columns in Cleve West’s garden, they’re nice sculptural pieces. I also like the fact that it’s quite an informal, relaxed garden, there’s nothing gimmicky about it.”

Click here to see the plant list for this garden.

The Bradstone Fusion Garden

The Bradstone Fusion Garden by Maria Luisa Medina, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

Maria Luisa Medina won the Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship in 2010, and her urban garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, created in conjunction with Beardshaw and the Bradstone technical team, is the culmination of her scholarship year. She says:

“We wanted people to see that concrete can be used in the garden and that it can be beautiful. First, we decided to create a product inspired by nature, with different strata and colours. Then we came up with the concept of a screen that could be used as a wind break, to divide the space or just as an ornamental feature, which would have different colours to reflect the idea of stratification. The concrete wall tiles at the back follow the same idea. With the planting, I wanted to have something dramatic in the garden and so I decided to include the Strelitzias at the front. There is also the idea of fusion in the garden, a fusion of styles, so we have the English woodland area at the back, with the Zelcova serrata tree, and at the front you get the more international planting.  The screens are used as a divider between the two. I particularly like the curves in the garden, created by the screens and the path, because they add movement to the whole.”

Favourite Garden: “I loved The Monaco Garden for its clean lines and for its sense of relaxation.  For me, the more plants I have in a garden the more I get the feeling I have to work on it.”

Click here to see the plant list for this garden.

The Worcester, Bosch Group Power of Nature Garden

The Worcester, Bosch Group Power of Nature Garden by Olivia Kirk, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

With a circular platform seemingly hovering above a pool of water in the centre of the garden, all the elements in Olivia Kirk’s design are intended to evoke a sense of the power that can be harnessed from sustainable natural resources such as sunlight and geothermal energy. She says:

“It’s very much a concept garden, representing the four elements, earth, air, fire and water, although we’ve hinted at the various technologies that can be used to harness energy from renewable sources with the evacuated solar tubes which go through the garden like a sort of sculpture, and the ground source heat pumps in the water, which normally you would bury under the soil in your garden.  I’ve included very airy planting that moves in the wind, with the Acer palmatum, Calamagrostis and the other grasses.  Then there’s a flash of blue going through the garden which refers to the energy in the ground that you can harness, contrasting with the fairly neutral pallet of greens, whites and creams. Then the rusty pot represents the sun and solar energy. Lots of people though, are just coming and just saying how much they like the planting – such as the Geums planted with the electric blue Salvias, so the garden works on lots of levels.”

Favourite Garden: “I really love The Monaco Garden because it takes you straight on holiday and it’s a very bold, architectural garden. I also love the planting in The Daily Telegraph garden.”

Trends at Chelsea this year: “I spotted that grasses are being used differently this year. Rather than the block prairie planting, grasses are being put back into what you might call an English style of gardening. So I think we are getting our flowers back, and I think that’s great. I don’t use grasses an awful lot myself but I do like the height and the movement they bring to a garden.”

Tip to take home: “Don’t think just because it’s a small garden, that you have to use small plants. If you go for really big, bold, architectural plants, like the Euphorbia x pasteurii that I’ve used here at the front of the garden, you actually get an elongated vista so the garden looks longer that it is. It’s also good to go for one big feature, like the fire bowl. I think bigger in a smaller space really works if you are brave enough to do it.”

Click here to see the plant list for this garden.

If you’d like to find out more about The Magistrates’ Garden, also in the urban gardens category, designer Kate Gould has written about her experiences at the show, and other gardens she enjoyed here.

And in the show gardens…….

The RBC New Wild Garden

The RBC New Wild Garden by Dr. Nigel Dunnett, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011

Waves of colourful, wildlife-friendly planting intersected by sculptural habitat walls are the glory of this urban rain garden, which was designed by Dr. Nigel Dunnett. He says:

“The garden is inspired by the work of William Robinson, a Victorian horticulturalist, who coined the phrase ‘the wild garden’. When we talk about wild gardens now, we tend to think of a space where everything’s left to nature and there are lots of native plants. But the original meaning of the term ‘wild garden’, as Robinson described it, was to bring plants from all over the world and to grow them, with native plants, in settings where they looked completely at home and natural. I really wanted to try and revive that idea so we’ve got native wild flowers combined with plants like Meconopsis and Thalictrum, from other countries, but they all go together in a way that’s very, very natural. In a city garden, I think it’s really important to make things look as attractive as possible, if you really want to get a lot of greening in.

The whole garden also works as a rain garden. A lot of rainwater will be soaked up by the green roof and any excess will run off into the pool, where it will collect, and then spill over into another pool.  In a really heavy downpour, the pools can overspill into the garden and rainwater will be taken up by the planting. The idea is to soak up as much rainwater as possible rather than allowing it to run off hard surfaces and overwhelm the drainage system because that’s when we have flash flooding problems. It’s predicted that, due to climate change, we’re going to get lots and lots of drought and then torrential downpours, so we’ve got to deal with both conditions in the same space. The planting around the edge of the garden is really drought-tolerant –the Salvias, the grasses, the Armeria, the Artemisia, the Erodiums. Other plants like the Himalayan Poppies grow perfectly well in good garden soil so long as it doesn’t dry out.  The point about a rain garden is that it’s not a bog garden, it doesn’t need to be wet all the time.”

Tips to take home: “First of all, there’s the idea of disconnecting your downpipe, so rather than letting water go into the drain, you collect it and let it overflow into the garden. Secondly, I think it’s particularly important that in our meadow or wildlife-type plantings, we are not insisting on only using native plants. All the latest research says that mixed planting is actually better for wildlife than using only native plants because it extends the flowering period in the garden. I think the combination of artistic use of materials with the creation of habitat structures is also something that really ought to become much more widespread. If you are going to have permanent structures or artwork in the garden then why not make them multi-functional?”

Click here to see the plant list for this garden.



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