Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chelsea: A very sneaky preview

I snuck into the Chelsea Flower Show yesterday for a very sneaky preview. Actually, 'snuck' is not quite the right word, I did have to meet someone, be given a pass and wear a hi-viz vest etc. I love going to Chelsea during Build-Up, as it's called. It's an appropriate term as the place is like a building site, and so full of vans and lorries, it's like being in the middle of some kind of truck race. Very exciting.
I was there to look at examples of vertical gardening as research for a piece I'm writing for The Independent. Quite a few gardeners are incorporating living walls, and I'd been invited by the Children's Society to see the garden Mark Gregory is building for them. Mark's design includes two living walls (see picture above), either side of a wall-mounted water feature, and they're basically like bookshelves, built of wood, with the plants in sections inside. Drought-tolerant varieties such as sedums and sempervivums go at the top, where it is driest, and plants that like damp, such as ferns, go at the bottom, with things like heuchera in between. The effect is lovely: very textural and with the rich colours of a tapestry. I wasn't completely convinced about how easy they would be to water, but the plants had been in for a few weeks and they seemed happy enough.

On my way to the Children's Society garden, I stopped off at Ishihara Kazuyuki's roof garden design, which also uses living walls, but built in a different way (see right and below). His are planted in framework of chicken wire, filled with spaghnum moss. I couldn't see if there was any soil beneath, but I suspect not. Ishihara built a beautiful garden at Chelsea last year with moss walls that were much admired, but also much criticised, as many people thought they would be unsustainable. In Japan, where the concept of living walls has really taken off, it's a lot more humid, so they would probably survive much more easily than here in the UK. But they were so gorgeous, one is tempted to say: 'Who cares!' His garden is called 'Midori No Tobira', which means 'The Green Door'.