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Gardening with Hannah Genders

A privileged peek at Chelsea

Posted on June 23 2008 at 12:27:02 0 comments

The Edible Playground

Hannah Genders enjoys the latest trends in garden design at the biggest annual flower show.

The Chelsea Flower Show seems to come round so quickly every year, and it really has become a key date in my diary – it’s a chance to see all that is happening in the world of gardens and design and, of course, to catch up with friends in my profession.

I hope plenty of you managed to get down to the show this year; even with the crowds it’s always worth a visit. For those of you who didn’t make it, this is my round-up of the gardens at this year’s show.

Having a press pass for the Monday before the show officially opens to the public is a great privilege, and means I can have a good look at the exhibits and get some photos with more ease than on a normal day.

This is also the day when the gardens are judged, and the whole atmosphere is one of relief at having finished and nervousness at the possible results.
The pass allows me to get into the show early and I have found this is worth doing as everyone is kicked out at 3pm for the Queen’s visit!

So with a very early start I made my way to “Main Avenue” – this is where the large show gardens are lined up, and really is the who’s who in the design world.

This year, Chris Collins, with whom I did my last TV series, was involved in the planting on the Marshalls’ garden, called “The Garden that Kids Really Want”.

It’s described as an organic playground and designer Ian Dexter, Chris and the team had been round secondary schools to get the children’s input into the design.

The garden had dens, hideaways and a snake-like path through the middle, and the planting was mainly shade-tolerant with some unusual specimens due to Chris’ influence, such as the tree Trochodendron aralioides, which I had not seen before.

Although Chris was busy filming I did manage to catch up and hear all about the stress and excitement of doing a large show garden.

These gardens on Main Avenue measure 25m by 10m and further down the avenue was the Laurent Perrier garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. It was superbly executed and, as I predicted beforehand, likely to get the Best in Show award.

The top layer of the garden was cloud- pruned hornbeams, set off sculpturally by tanks of water, and then underplanted with a palate of green and cream planting, with plants like a cream flowered astrantia alongside epimediums and hostas.

When a designer takes the brave step of using a very limited colour scheme like this, and doing something completely different in contrast to all the very colourful plantings on the other gardens, it really stands out.

It is easy to see how Tom Stuart-Smith’s previous work had influenced gardens at this year’s show and I predict we will see lots of green and cream underplanting next year.

I really liked Cleve West’s garden for BUPA because it was well thought through and a real garden for a real situation. It was to be built at one of their care homes after the show.

I know that the RHS encourages this with designers who enter Chelsea – if the garden can be used afterwards it not only justifies some of the expense but fulfils a sustainable brief that they now set out for their shows.

Andy Sturgeon’s garden for Cancer Research was another beautiful, exciting space, and Chinese artist Shao Fan, a newcomer to Chelsea, dug out a garden 4.5m deep to create his stunning “I Dream, I Seek My Garden”. I am just amazed at what people can create from a flat piece of grass in just one month.

Along with all the big names and gardening fashion on Main Avenue there are always a few small gardens in the courtyard and urban categories that are well worth a good look and this year was no exception.

Tucked around the back on Serpentine Walk was a first-time garden for Dorset Cereals, called “The Edible Playground” (pictured above). A delightful name and a delightful garden, it showed the front of a classroom with planted out raised beds, a little work area and pots to show how schools can encourage children to grow their own food.

I loved this garden and found out next day that it deservedly won Best in Show for its category.

The other small garden that stood out for me in the new urban garden category was a front garden designed and built by Mark Gregory for The Children’s Society. What I liked about it was the beautiful execution and simple design, but it was also packed full of good ideas in a small space.

Mark had designed a special bike lock system where the bikes can be hung up safely in a front garden under a canopy to keep them dry. Rainwater harvesting was incorporated in a stylish way and by the front gate there was even an outdoor cupboard for all the bins and recycling boxes, complete with mini green roof!

After a great day, a little champagne and lots of chatting with friends, I had just about got it all done before the announcement came that it was time to leave because Her Majesty was on the way!

Pictures by Julia Gross

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