Monday, May 21, 2012

Chelsea Flower Show 2012: the first glimpse

Andy Sturgeon's garden for M&G Investments, the sponsors of the show
The Sunday before the Chelsea Flower Show opens is traditionally the real, working press day, when journalists can be reasonably safe in assuming that they can view the gardens, perhaps talk to the exhibitors and take photographs without being knocked sideways by a camera crew or a flying celebrity.
Monday, the official press day, offers so many distractions in the way of champagne, celebrities and catching up with your mates, that it's sometimes difficult to know where to look first - are you going to check out the new rose on the David Austin stand, or check out Ringo Starr on the WaterAid garden?
Walking through the gates of the show for the first time each year is a very exciting moment. What will the gardens be like? I've usually seen the sketches, but I find it very difficult to predict from the drawing how the garden will look in real life.
Anyway, here are some of the main show gardens. It was a very cold day, with grey skies, and a raw wind. Apparently, according to the weather forecast, we're set for much better weather later in the week.

Cleve West's garden for Brewin Dolphin, the investment management company, who celebrate their 250th anniversary this year. 
Detail of Cleve's trademark planting - a soft, loose naturalistic effect, with jolts of colour from the red poppies.

Joe Swift's first Chelsea garden, for Homebase and the Teenage Cancer Trust.
I loved this garden - I love the combination of rust, bright green and grey. Copper and rust are difficult colours to get right in a garden - they can seem overbearing or even slightly gloomy.
To me, the there seemed to be a very good balance between the structure and the planting - for example, the monolithic wooden screens that frame the views of the garden, and the branches of the young plane tree. 
The addition of the plane tree helped the garden blend in to the Chelsea showground, merging seamlessly with the borrowed landscape of mature plane trees in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, where the show is held. 

Tom Hoblyn's garden for Arthritis Research UK. The planting here was inspired by Beth Chatto's dry garden in Essex., although the design reflects the formality of the great Italian Renaissance gardens
TV gardening presenter and plantswoman Carol Klein filming in the Arthritis Research garden  for the BBC's coverage of the show
Andy Sturgeon's garden for M&G investments. Another of my favourites, it featured a sculpture running through a formal canal, giving the effect of a stream of bubbles. The pattern is picked up in the walls/sculptures, and also reflects the shapes of the flowers. Like Joe Swift's garden, this is one that looked good from every single angle.
More bubbles .... 
... and a final flourish of Sturgeon bubbles
The garden designed by Sarah Price, one of the team working on the 2012 London Olympic Park  in east London, for the Daily Telegraph. It's an evocation of the British countryside - water, woodland and wild flowers.
Nigel Dunnett's garden for the Royal Bank of Canada is designed to harvest and filter rainwater runoff. It's one of several gardens dealing with the theme of water (or lack thereof) at Chelsea this year. I loved the Turk's Cap lilies.
Diarmuid Gavin's Magical Garden for Westland Horticulture, an 80ft pyramid comprising seven floors, on which you can find a greenhouse, a rose garden, various seating areas, and a stainless steel flume through which you can come quickly down to earth again. I'm a big fan of Diarmuid, and I think this is a typically audacious design, but it's slightly let down by the planting - the bamboo which forms quite a lot of the green wall looks a bit sad, I think.
Jihae Hwang's Quiet Time: DMZ Forbidden Garden, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Korean conflict. It represents the vegetation that has grown up in the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, and includes a watchtower. It's a fantastic concept, and beautifully done, but it suffers from its position in the show, which is right next to Diarmuid's pyramid (You can just see a corner of the pyramid on the left-hand side). This not only makes it difficult to photograph, but I walked past it several times, thinking it was just a dumping ground for the gardens being built around it. 
Arne Maynard's Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden. There was huge excitement about the return of designer Arne Maynard to Chelsea this year. i was intrigued by his use of copper beech, which were common in big suburban gardens when I was a child, but which have fallen from favour - probably because of their size. Pleaching is a good way of incorporating them into a small, formal garden.