The organizer of the Chelsea Flower Show shares his thoughts on landscape design and the luxurious experience of owning a private garden.
The annual Chelsea Flower Show is perhaps the most important event in the horticultural calendar. This year's show, held during May 20-24th, was the 86th exhibition held at the Royal Hospital's 11-acre site in the centre of London, and was as popular as ever, attracting 157,000 visitors and garnering enormous media attention from all over the world.
Organized by the Royal Horticultural Society, the UK's leading gardening charity dedicated to advancing horticulture and promoting good gardening, the Chelsea Flower Show is the ultimate showcase for new and rare plants, cutting-edge landscape design, and the very latest trends in gardening.
Amongst this year's 600 exhibitors were 22 small gardens, including courtyard gardens and urban gardens, 100 floral exhibitors, and the 22 stunning show gardens by luminaries of the landscape design world such as Arabella Lennox-Boyd and Tom Stuart-Smith.
This is an event where gardening trends are set and the latest fashions were clear: ingenious use of small spaces including vertical plantings; an increase in the use of green foliage coupled with a decrease in the use of colorful flowers; environmentally friendly gardens; and an abundance of water features.
Chelsea Flower Show is a major event that requires 15 months of behind-the-scenes planning. Bob Sweet, Head of Shows at the Royal Horticultural Society, is the driving force behind the organization and is involved in everything from shortlisting the entries to awarding the prestigious medals. Here he shares with LuxuryCulture his thoughts on Chelsea, landscape design and the luxurious experience of owning a garden.
HEAD OF SHOWS, ROYAL HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY. ORGANIZER, CHESLEA FLOWER SHOW
As organizer of the show, you help to shortlist gardens and choose those that are finally displayed. How many designs do you consider and how do you choose?
I am party of a professional panel that looks carefully at the value of each individual application. We receive three times more applications than there are spaces, so it is very competitive. Though we try to ensure we have a good spread of exhibits and a wide range of differing gardens to keep the show interesting. When we look at an application, we might know the name of designer or sponsor, so we can recognize the character of the garden, depending on who is involved. It's important that there is a mixture of gardens.
What does it mean for a gardener to be selected for the Chelsea Flower Show?
It is very significant and, indeed, means they have landed in a different league. The initial benefit is the potential of 12 hours of television exposure. A really stunning garden such as Tom Stuart-Smith's for Laurent-Perrier gets a good chunk of TV time, which is inevitably helpful. For this reason it's very important that there are new designers every year. Of course, experienced Chelsea designers know exactly how to design a successful garden. It's quite a skill to be able to design something that is so seductive from the public's point of view.
What criteria do the judges use to issue awards and commendations? Which gardens impressed the judges this year?
At Chelsea, gardens are first examined by an assessment panel who report to the judges with their findings. Judgments are made by consensus. There are three elements that make a good garden: excellent design; good planting, which includes good quality plants; and good construction – it is important that the gardens are built to a high standard and that attention to detail is given. When the judges are debating they consider all three elements, with a bias towards good planting. The winning garden by Tom Stuart-Smith for Laurent-Perrier met all these objectives. This year the judges awarded a record number of gold medals. The standard is forever getting better.
What trends did you notice at this year's show?
The overwhelming trend this year that many people have commented upon was the use of fewer colorful flowers and instead the use of more subtle shades of green and an increased amount of foliage than flowers. Chelsea tends to be a signal for garden fashions and I expect we will see more green gardens in the future.
An increased concern for the environment and eco-awareness is affecting all design. What affect did this have on this year's Chelsea entries?
Every garden entry at Chelsea was asked if they had a location to go to after the show. This year 27 of our gardens will be relocated, meaning that Chelsea has a bigger influence outside of the show. We are also keen to enquire about the ethical sourcing of plantings and wherever possible we encourage sustainability.
You have said that this year's show was one of the best ever because of the number of exciting trees and plants. What were these plants and why is it so special to see them at Chelsea?
A lot of designers went that extra mile to source unusual plants. For example, the Cadogan garden used pepper trees and the Lloyds TSB garden included some quite rare and outstanding specimens, including a 200-year-old olive tree. It is interesting that this year designer's extended themselves to find notable plants. It was another clear trend.
Urban gardens are an integral part of Chelsea Flower Show. How would you suggest that urbanites make the most of small spaces and balconies? Which gardens or installations should they have been inspired by in this show?
The great thing about having urban gardens at Chelsea is that people can relate to them in terms of size and space. A lot of urban gardens this year made use of collecting water and recycling. Some made interesting use of space, showing how to combine a garden in an area that is also used to park a car or store a bicycle. There are always lots of inspired ideas in this section that people can adopt in their own gardens.
The luxury of a garden is the space, light and time to enjoy it. As people move to apartments and smaller spaces, is the luxury of a garden therefore diminishing?
Gardens have different purposes for different people. Some only want to look at their garden, and some have no choice but to look at their garden – such as those who live in blocks of apartments that overlook gardens. Others want to make use of their gardens and spend time in them, and they might have BBQ's or build swimming pools. For others a garden is more practical, a place where they grow vegetables. It is very much a personal thing and you cannot generalize.
Please describe your own garden? Did you design it yourself?
Yes, I designed it myself. It is four hours away from where I work so it must look after itself mostly. I have made sure it is a wild flower garden, so it is always in bloom and is always interesting to look at. I work on it myself, which requires quite a lot of work and time, but I enjoy it.
What would your dream garden look like?
For a start, it would certainly have water in it. In fact, it would have many of the features of this year's winning garden by Tom Stuart-Smith for Laurent-Perrier, such as lots of shades of green, lots of natural habitats for birds and increased biodiversity. Most of all it would be a space to sit and enjoy.
Which are your 5 favourite gardens around the world, the unmissables that everyone should see once?
1 The Chelsea Flower Show each year
2 Powerscourt, Ireland www.powerscourt.ie
3 Ayrlies, New Zealand www.ayrlies.co.nz
4 Chaumont, France www.chaumont-jardin.com
5 Trebah, Cornwall www.trebah-garden.co.uk
What is your definition of luxury?
Having more time than is available.
If luxury were a moment?
To see all of the Rio Carnival.
Her Majesty the Queen.
A cold bottle of Pink Champagne!
The Bupa Garden
Designer: Cleve West www.clevewest.co.uk
This garden was designed with the residents of care homes in mind, particularly those who suffer from dementia. Soothing water features, clear paths and planting schemes are used to create a safe environment, appropriate for elderly people. A number of plants used in medicine are also featured.
A Cadogan Garden
Deigner: Robert Myers www.robertmyers-associates.co.uk
Sponsor: Cadogan Estates
Inspired by the modern courtyards and squares of the Cadogan Estate in London's Chelsea, this garden is conceived as part of a shared communal park. Set in the London of the future, the garden uses plants that grow particularly well in a hotter climate. All the latest trends are displayed in this contemporary space: lots of green foliage, an absence of color, and the use of water features.
The Cancer Research UK Garden
Designer: Andy Sturgeon www.andysturgeon.com
Sponsor: Cancer Research UK
This contemporary woodland garden embraces technology, representing the cutting-edge work of Cancer Research. Within four large rectangular pools, a series of computer-generated raindrop-like ripples are created to symbolize movement and progress. As with the other gardens at Chelsea, the plantings are predominantly green and the garden makes use of exotic plants from the southern hemisphere.
The Daily Telegraph Garden
Designer: Arabella Lennox-Boyd www.arabellalennoxboyd.com
Sponsor: The Daily Telegraph
Renowned landscape architect Arabella Lennox-Boyd was inspired by the purity of Japanese gardens in her entry for The Daily Telegraph. With restrained planting and an abundance of water, the garden is designed to reflect light and to encourage contemplation.
I Dream, I Seek My Garden
Designer: Shao Fan
Sponsor: K T Wong Charitable Trust
Sunk 5ft into the ground, this garden represents a traditional Chinese interpretation of the landscape as depicted within Chinese art, and is inspired by the desire to link China and Europe. Designed as a space to calm the mind of the observer, the garden uses indigenous Chinese plants that are simple and beautiful, many with medicinal qualities.
Designer: Del Buono Gazerwitz
Sponsor: Daylesford Organic
Award: Silver-Gilt Flora
This organic garden is designed as a 'garden kichen' with a state-of-the-art outdoor building intended as an area to prepare what is grown for al fresco dining. Highlighting the benefits of organic practice, conservation, sustainability and self-sufficiency, the focal point is the cutting-edge shelter that uses solar panels, reclaimed timber and Cotswold stone.
The Oceanico Garden
Designer: Diarmuid Gavin & Sir Terence Conran www.diarmuidgavindesigns.co.uk
Award: Bronze Flora
A modern day jungle, The Oceanico Garden is intended as a haven from urban life. Amongst the rich foliage and plantings, the focal points are the oversized steel daisies that tower over the garden and café tables. Inspired by 1940s French mesh-work chairs, these hovering sculptures create a fun, contemporary atmosphere and make this one of Chelsea's most memorable gardens.
The Laurent-Perrier Garden
Designer: Tom Stuart-Smith www.tomstuartsmith.co.uk
Award: Best Show Garden and Gold
The winner of Best Show Garden, Tom Stuart-Smith's garden for Laurent-Perrier was one of the highlights of the show. Designed as a contemplative space, this garden is both elegant and surreal in character. Mature trees extend over the garden, meticulously pruned so that they form rounded 'clouds' which seemingly float in mid-air.
The Largest Room in the House
Designer: Denise Preston
Sponsor: GMI Property Company, The Royal British Legion, Toc H
Award: Silver-Gilt Flora
Inspired by the garden at Talbot House at Poperinghe, near Ypres in Belgium, which was known as 'the largest room in the house,' this garden aims to recreate the same peaceful oasis that was used by resting soldiers during the Great War. In contrast to the strong trend for green plantings at Chelsea, the garden uses a palette of pastels and bolder tones to give a sense of comfort and peace.
From Life to Life: A Garden For George
Designer: Yvonne Innes, Olivia Harrison
Sponsor: The Material World Charitable Foundation
Award: Silver-Gilt Flora
Designed in collaboration with the wife of the late George Harrison, this garden also takes inspiration from his life. Divided into four distinct areas that represent George's life story – growing up in Liverpool, the sixties, his gardening, and his spiritual life – the garden is a riot of color, foliage and pavilions designed for contemplation.
The Savills Garden
Designer: Philip Nixon www.philipnixondesign.com
Sponsor: Savills Plc
This garden explores the relationship between art and gardening with its combination of sculptural trees, textural shrubs and framing box hedging. The ultimate inspiration for the garden, designed by Philip Nixon, was London's Tate Modern gallery and experience of its varied spaces. Key trends displayed include the reflecting pools and use of garden architecture.
Garden in the Silver Moonlight
Designers: Haruko Seki, Makoto Saito (add.locus architects), www.studiolasso.co.uk
Sponsors: Royal Palm Residences Seychelles, Urban Regenerate Association of Niigata
Award: Silver Flora
A contemporary interpretation of a traditional Japanese garden, this entry was inspired by the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto. The moon is the focus, with a shot-blasted glass recreation lying at the bottom of a pond, and designed to be looked at from a specially designed viewing platform. With bamboo woodland and Japanese cypress trees, the intention was simplicity and purity.
List of winners:
Best Show Garden: Laurent-Perrier UK
Best Courtyard Garden: Dorset Cereals
Best Urban Garden: Adam Frost
President's Award: Alpine Garden Society
President's Most Creative Award: Kirstenbosch, South Africa
Best Floral Arrangement (Session 1): Hazel McGregor
Best Floral Arrangement (Session 2): Solomon Leong
Best Junior Display: Sonia Shah