Chelsea garden gets a new sky-high home

Cotswold designer Chris Beardshaw’s award-winning Chelsea garden is being given a helping hand by the BBC DIY SOS team this week.

The garden, which was sponsored by Morgan Stanley for Great Ormond Street Hospital, has been transported across London and rebuilt as a roof-top garden at the world famous children’s hospital.

DIY SOS Big Build on BBC 1 tomorrow will see Nick Knowles and his team use cranes to take the garden in over buildings before reassembling it for use by patients and their families.

“It’s bringing new life into the heart of the hospital,” explained Chris earlier this year.

Chris Beardshaw
Chris Beardshaw on the garden at Chelsea

The design of the garden was dictated by the location, which is almost entirely shaded by surrounding buildings.

To cope with these conditions, Chris has created a woodland garden with a top storey of trees, including acers and liriodendron. A light-weight growing medium and sophisticated anchoring techniques will ensure they don’t move in the wind or prove too heavy for the roof. The trees will also be coppiced to keep them small.

Rather than his trademark herbaceous, Chris planted this garden with a mix of shade-lovers, such as ferns and epimedium, with seasonal colour coming from Cornus kousa and C. mas and an emphasis on texture.

At the heart of the original garden at Chelsea was a reflective water feature, but this has been replaced by more planting but the Japanese-style pavilion is still a main element, offering shelter and seclusion.

Chris Beardshaw
Chris Beardshaw with the DIY SOS team

Great Ormond Street treats children with complex conditions, such as rare heart disease and skin disorders. The garden is designed to provide a place for families to relax and escape from the bustle of the hospital.

“It’s a role that at the moment is missing through much of the hospital,” said Chris. A space in which we can sit and relax, contemplate and perhaps find a new perspective.”

The garden was given a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show earlier this year, one of a number of top RHS awards Chris has won, including gold in 2015 for a garden that has been relocated as a community space in Poplar, London.

DIY SOS Big Build will be shown on BBC1 at 8pm on Thursday November 10.

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Chelsea change welcomed

Hospice to get inside view of flower show 

When I catch up with Royal Horticultural Society judge Richard Sneesby, he’s feeling a little jaded after two long days at the Chelsea Flower Show but upbeat about what he saw there. The show seems, he declares, to have turned a corner.

“It was nice to see something different. There was a move away from the usual blue and white planting.

Richard Sneesby
Richard Sneesby

“For a long time we’ve had a kind of herbaceous mix of very feminine planting, of quite muted colours and lots of things at the same height.”

Richard is on the Chelsea selection panel and was part of the team, made up of designers, journalists, constructors and nursery experts, who judged this year’s Artisan and Fresh gardens. He will be talking about the process and how Chelsea influences design at a fundraising talk this month for Cheltenham’s Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.

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Leckhampton Court Hospice

He’s well qualified to spot changes in thinking having taught on design courses in Sheffield, Cheltenham and Falmouth over the past 25 years; he numbers Chris Beardshaw, Hugo Bugg and Sam Ovens, who all exhibited at this year’s Chelsea, among his former students. He is also senior judge for the Society of Garden Designers’ annual awards.

There was, he says, no dramatic shift this year but subtle changes: a rediscovery of shrubs and evergreens and some unusual plants.

“What was so wonderful about Andy Sturgeon’s garden was that I had no idea what probably 60 per cent of the plants were.”

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Andy Sturgeon’s garden was awarded Best in Show

Yet, novelty alone won’t make a design work.

“It does not need to be whacky. It has got to be magical, it’s got to transport you for a moment to something different,” explains Richard, who now lectures at the Eden Project, alongside his Cornwall-based landscape architecture business.

However, doing something different is far from straightforward.

“It is getting harder and harder to do something new. It’s extremely easy to copy, it’s reasonably easy to adapt, but it’s incredibly difficult to find something genuinely new.”

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Richard judged the Artisan Gardens

And only those designers who are confident are likely to take the risk of doing something that’s not tried and tested at the world famous show.

“If you get it wrong you have absolutely put your head above the parapet and there are not many people in the world who have got the guts to do that. People who have should be celebrated even if they get it wrong.”

When it comes to the RHS, gardens are marked out of four in nine separate categories, including construction and fulfilling the brief, with a threshold that has to be passed for each medal. Among the pitfalls are what Richard describes as ‘miniaturising’ things, such as making paths that are too small or seating areas that will take only one person, stuffing plants in too close together, or having poor specimens. Generally it is mistakes that make the difference to the medal awarded.

“Anyone who is offered a place at Chelsea has an equal chance of getting a gold medal.”

Richard will be talking at Cotswold Farm one of the area’s Arts and Crafts gardens. It was, he says, a period that saw collaboration between gardeners and architects and the sort of broadening of ideas that could be seen at the Chelsea Flower Show, with many gardens featuring bespoke works of art.

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Cotswold Farm Gardens are the setting for the fundraising evening

“We’re starting to see gardens that are a collaboration of more than just the designer and a contractor. There are serious crafts people and very skilled artists, all sorts of people involved in these gardens.

“The more interesting ones are the ones that have come from the minds of more than one person.”

Richard Sneesby will be talking about the Chelsea Flower Show at Cotswold Farm Gardens, Duntisbourne Abbots, on Friday June 24 in aid of Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice. The event begins at 6pm with a drinks and canape reception and tickets, costing £15, are on sale from Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice on 01242 246285, email Leckhampton.fundraising@sueryder.org or visit the Sue Ryder website

• My reflections on this year’s Chelsea Flower Show are here

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Chelsea Flower Show: rocks and reflections

Chelsea is all about rocks and colour this year. Stone features on many of the gardens and there are vibrant, paintbox shades in every part of the Great Pavilion.

Cleve West’s celebration of the rugged landscape of Exmoor manages to combine huge pieces of Forest of Dean stone with soft, easy-on-the-eye planting without making either look out of place.

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Rocks on Cleve West’s M&G garden have a sense of permanence

Rosy Hardy has circular gabions filled with stone that mimic a dry chalk steam bed; Hugo Bugg creates bold geometric shapes in shades of black and grey; and in the Fresh gardens, Propagating Dan has balanced a five-tonne boulder on the roof of a pavilion in ‘The Garden of Potential’.

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Stone is in evidence across the show

A talking point among visitors though is Diarmuid Gavin’s nod to British eccentricity. The strains of ‘In an English Country’ garden float over the show as window boxes go up and down, topiary twirls and plants process around the garden’s house. It ticks few boxes in terms of inspiration for home gardeners but as a spectacle it is unbeatable and won silver-gilt.

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Not content with bells and whistles, Diarmuid Gavin had musicians on his garden

In the Great Pavilion, Marks and Spencer introduces a carnival atmosphere with vibrant blocks of colour in a display that is high on impact.

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The startling M&S garden won gold

Heucheraholics are bringing a sense of fun to the humble garden shed, repainted in primary shades and festooned with heucheras, there are hyacinths and tulips in lipstick shades, and the New Covent Garden Flower Market has a nod to the Queen’s birthday with a display that combines cool green and white on one side with 3D colour on the other.

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The cool side of The New Covent Garden display
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The other side of the flower market’s display

And this year, the usual splashes of scarlet from the Chelsea pensioners are dwarfed by the great swathe red poppies in front of the Royal Hospital.

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Just some of the thousands of poppies remembering commemorating fallen soldiers

It’s been a different Chelsea: the sun shone – a welcome relief after last year’s deluge; press day was quieter due to fewer passes being issued; the Main Avenue gardens showed a welcome individuality. What hasn’t changed is the buzz around the showground and the crowds pouring in as soon as the gates opened this morning.

Key results and the Cotswolds 

Best show garden: The Telegraph Garden by Andy Sturgeon

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Chris on his gold garden

Cheltenham’s Chris Beardshaw added to his gold medal tally with his garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital, sponsored by M&G. Peter Dowle saw the garden he built for L’Occitane win gold, while Lichen Antiques supplied the Forest of Dean stone for Cleve West’s gold medal-winning garden and Westmorland stone for the Royal Bank of Canada Garden, which got silver-gilt. Avening sculptor Giles Rayner supplied a water feature for The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, which won silver-gilt.

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Peter Dowle in a tiny piece of France transported to London

South Gloucestershire herb queen Jekka McVicar got silver-gilt with her first show garden and the Meningitis Now Futures Garden for the Stroud charity won silver-gilt in the Artisan Garden awards.

For a round-up of the Cotswolds’ input into the Chelsea Flower Show see here

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Florist Katherine Kear was dressed for the part

In the Great Pavilion, Gloucester florist Katherine Kear led her team of florists from the Three Counties and South Wales to gold medal victory. Their display for the National Federation of Flower Arrangement Societies showed the influence of the Victorians on gardening. More details here

Here are some of my snapshots of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.

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Rosy Hardy’s first show garden won silver
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Plants from Raymond Blanc’s kitchen garden were used in the hospitality village
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Jo Thompson’s Chelsea Barracks Garden was wrapped around a lawn – rarely seen at Chelsea
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Jekka McVicar’s Modern Apothecary garden
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Colour is everywhere at Chelsea
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One of two striking sculptures on Chris Beardshaw’s garden
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Detail on the NAFAS display
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Naturalistic planting on the L’Occitane garden
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I loved this lavender ‘With Love’ on Downderry Nursery’s stand

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Chelsea Flower Show 2016

The Cotswolds go to town

The Cotswolds are well represented this year at a Chelsea Flower Show that promises more than a touch of theatre with an 80ft train, an acoustic garden and spinning topiary.

Visitors will be greeted by floral arches over the Bull Ring and London Gate entrances, created to celebrate The Queen’s 90th birthday. The tunnel by Rock Bank Restaurant will be hung with more than 5,000 roses, and part of the Royal Hospital grounds will be carpeted in nearly 300,000 hand-crocheted poppies, a tribute to those who have served in war.

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Floral arches will welcome visitors

Those with a pass for the Hospitality Village will see ‘Le Jardin Blanc’, created by Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes and former Hillier boss Andy McIndoe, using veg grown at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

Cleeve West returns with a garden inspired by Exmoor, the plight of modern day slaves is highlighted in an Fresh garden by Juliet Sargeant, and Diarmuid Gavin is again set to be a talking point with a garden for Harrods celebrating British eccentricity that will have bobbing box balls, patio furniture emerging from a trapdoor and twirling bay trees.

Elsewhere, hosta and fern specialists Bowdens are planning a display around a 1920s Belmond British Pullman carriage, disability charity Papworth Trust has worked with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie to produce a garden of sound and award-winning Great Pavilion exhibitors Jekka McVicar and Rosy Hardy are both making their show garden debuts.

Jekka’s A Modern Apothecary explores the links between herbs and well-being with a palette of plants that will include fennel and chicory, which aid digestion, wild celery for treating gout and several red-leaved herbs, important in preventing heart disease. A herb lay – a mix of grass and plants such as sorrel and chicory – will be used instead of a traditional lawn.

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She’s growing 90 per cent of the 15,000 plants needed at her South Gloucestershire herb nursery.

“I really want to show how fantastic herbs are as garden plants. They are the one group of plants that look good, smell good and do you good.”

After the show, the garden will be rebuilt at St John’s Hospice, London, which is sponsoring it.

Rosy’s garden highlights the fragility of chalk streams, under threat from climate change and pollution, and, if the pressure of her first garden wasn’t enough, she is also putting together the display for Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, the nursery she runs with her husband, Rob.

chelsea flower show

Catching up with her at the recent launch of Allomorphic in Stroud, I questioned the wisdom of building two exhibits simultaneously at Chelsea and just weeks after exhibiting at Malvern.

“I try not to think about it all,” she admitted, adding that while husband Rob would put in the hard landscaping for the nursery stand, only she did the planting.

“Nobody else can put it together. It has to be me.”

Partly, this is because she has no detailed planting plan and there’s no ‘dry run’.

“I just go and paint with my plants.”

Here are some of the Gloucestershire designers, growers and artists taking part in this year’s show.

A life-changing disease

Designer John Everiss’ garden celebrates the 30th anniversary of Stroud-based charity Meningitis Now.

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The Artisan Garden depicts the life-changing effect of the disease with 3D wooden sculptures, modelled on real children, seen travelling across the garden from health, through a wall of disease to life after meningitis. One of the figures is seen reaching for help through the wall, another fails to reappear.

John explained: “It’s important that those who have lost children or young adults are represented in this garden as well.”

Country-style planting in pastel shades will be shot through with orange, the charity’s colour, while its Gloucestershire roots are suggested by the use of Cotswold stone for walls and a folly.

A garden for GOSH

There’s also a children’s health theme to Cheltenham designer Chris Beardshaw’s show garden, which is for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, sponsored by Morgan Stanley.

chelsea flower show

Designed to be relocated to a rooftop at the hospital, it relies on texture to create a soothing, green space for patients and their families.

There’s a central water feature and an interlocking Japanese-style pavilion with woodland planting, including acers, cornus and epimedium.

“The flowers are deliberately small and hidden within the garden and not blousy and ostentatious,” said Chris.

More colourful will be fabric on the seats, which is based on leaves drawn by some of the hospital’s young patients.

Bringing France to Chelsea

A small piece of Provence will be created at the Chelsea Flower Show with the help of contractor Peter Dowle, who runs a nursery near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean.

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He is working with designer James Basson to mark the 40th anniversary of beauty firm L’Occitane, founded in Haute Provence by Olivier Baussan. Last year, the same team won gold at Chelsea for their depiction of a perfumer’s garden.

Plants native to the region, including sage, small-leaved holly and thyme, will be used to recreate a scene looking across a lavender field to the rolling hills and woodland of the area.

Earlier this month, Peter won gold at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival with a Japanese-style garden.

Forest plays its part

Stone from the Forest of Dean will underpin Cleeve West’s nostalgic look back at the landscape of Exmoor where he spent his teenage years.

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Nearly 90 tonnes of undressed stone, including one piece of nearly nine tonnes, will be used along with polished pieces.

The stone has been sourced by Cotswold firm Lichen Antiques, who supplied gates and paving for Cleeve’s 2014 gold medal-winning garden.

“We’ve spent days and days in the quarry choosing the right pieces of stone,” explained the firm’s owner, Darren Jones.

The firm is also supplying Westmorland stone for Hugo Bugg’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden which celebrates the importance of water.

chelsea flower show

Influenced by a trip to Jordan, it will show how arid landscapes can still have beautiful flora.

Westmorland is no longer quarried and Darren was lucky enough to have the 15 tonnes needed in stock.

“It’s beautiful,” said Darren, “and works absolutely perfectly in this garden.”

Both designers had a ‘dry run’ at positioning the stone at a yard in Gloucester before it was transported to the Chelsea showground.

Inspired by pineapples

The number sequence that underpins nature has inspired a Cotswold water sculptor’s Chelsea Flower Show commission.

chelsea flower show

Giles Rayner used the Fibonacci sequence as the starting point for a copper water vortex sculpture that will feature on The Winton Capital Beauty of Mathematics Garden.

“It was inspired by pineapples,” explains Giles, from Avening. “It’s got quite a complex shape.”

More of Giles’ work will be on show at his own stand, set into a garden designed by a student from Inchbald School of Design. It will feature a freeform hedge of Ilex crenata as a backdrop to the copper sculptures.

Florists head for Chelsea

Gloucestershire flower arrangers are also taking part in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Katherine Kear is leading a team building the NAFAS display in the Grand Pavilion, full story here

Meanwhile, in the floral art contest, Jayne Morriss is hoping to delight judges with a surprise.

The theme is ‘Garden Delight’ and Jayne, from Brimscombe Hill, has subtitled her arrangement ‘Twas Around the Corner I Beheld’.

“I think every garden should have a surprise as you turn the corner and this will be a beautiful planted urn”

For her ninth time at Chelsea, Jayne is planning an arrangement in pale pink, lavender and purple using delphiniums, peonies, roses and stocks.

Peacocks, pots and watering cans

Several Cotswold firms will be among the trade exhibitors at the Chelsea Flower Show among them garden antiques firm Architectural Heritage from Taddington.

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Their stand will feature period sundials and lead urns alongside their reproduction copper planters.

Cheltenham sculptor Christopher Lisney will be unveiling his twist on a traditional garden roller at the Chelsea Flower Show with a 7ft-high piece complete with a butterfly landing on the handle.

He has also reworked his popular watering can sculpture, adding a bird perching on the handle. The original watering can was shown at his first Chelsea visit in 2003 and is the only piece to have been on the stand every year since.

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Meanwhile, wire sculptor Rupert Till will be unveiling a new 8ft-high peacock on a hoop at the show. It’s part of a new range that has seen cockerels and parrots balancing on rings.

It is, he says, a way of putting a dramatic piece of art into even the smallest town garden.

In a nod to The Queen’s birthday, he will also have a fell pony’s head, while his popular boxing hares will be the centrepiece.

chelsea flower show

For information about the show, visit the RHS

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Florists go to Chelsea

Gloucester florist Katherine Kear will be celebrating the Victorians’ influence on gardening at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

The British Master Florist has been asked to stage a display for the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS) in the Great Pavilion.

Each year, NAFAS asks a different membership area to be responsible for the entry and Katherine will lead a team of eight flower arrangers from across The Three Counties and South Wales.

“It’s a bit of an honour,” says Katherine, who is a NAFAS national demonstrator, speaker and teacher.

Chelsea Flower show
Lavender is one of the many scented plants in the exhibit

With a completely free hand in deciding the theme, she has chosen to spotlight how the Victorian era of plant-hunting and conservatory growing changed the role of women in horticulture and influenced today’s style of flower arranging.

Gardening was not considered suitable for Victorian ladies but growing plants in a conservatory was acceptable and eventually led to more women arranging flowers for the house rather than leaving it all to the head gardener.

The exhibit, entitled ‘Victorian Revival, The Past Returns, will highlight this influence.

“It tells of a change in a lifestyle,” explains Katherine, who also runs a designer floristry business. “It kick-started women being accepted as gardeners and as flower arrangers.”

Chelsea flower show
Terracotta pots will be filled with herbs

The exhibit, which is 20sq feet and 17ft high, has three main elements, although the team are keeping exact details under wraps to maximise its impact; they are currently building a mock-up at a secret location in Gloucester.

Part of it will give an impression of the large scale arrangements that were common in grand Victorian houses.

“They were very full, very blousy with lots of strong colours together.”

This ‘drawing room’ will include roses, carnations, palms, and the inevitable aspidistra. Attempts to use another Victorian favourite, the monkey puzzle tree, proved too difficult and instead they have made a ‘fantasy tree’ from Muehlenbeckia complexa, a natural material often used to make hanging baskets, which will be hung with flower-filled glass tubes.

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The team have been collecting begonias

Another area will showcase individual plants, such as fuchsia and begonia, representing those brought back by the great plant-hunters, and there will be old-fashioned perennials in a box-edged garden, including delphinium, larkspur and sweet peas.

Katherine is determined that Chelsea visitors will get “the whole experience” and the exhibit is designed so that they can touch and smell some of the plants; a collection of herbs will be clustered along one edge, a small fernery will line another.

“We want to be able to engage with people,” explains Katherine, who is a member of Churchdown and District Flower Club.

Throughout there will be hints of Victorian life from a collection of old tools and a gardener’s waistcoat hung on a fork to a dainty cup and saucer.

The other members of Katherine’s hand-picked team are: Jenny Bennett from Charlton Kings Flower Club; Elizabeth Graham, Newport; Pat Crane, Hereford; Kath Lee, Carmarthen and Pershore; Judy Aldridge, Ledbury; Adrian Cook, South Pembroke; Donald Morgan, Carmarthen.

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Plant material has been used to create a fantasy tree

Members of the 75 flower clubs in the region have been fundraising for the project and their contribution will be recognised with leaves they have pressed being added to the display.

Meanwhile, the team have been busy sourcing props and plants, while the cut flowers will be purchased just before the show.

Katherine is no stranger to exhibitions having been a regular at the Malvern shows and as a past member of the Hereford Cathedral Flower Festival team. However, the prospect of being judged according to RHS rather than NAFAS rules is, she admits, “quite scary”.

But she adds: “You cannot do this and worry. You just have to get on with it.”

The Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 24-28 2016. Details: https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show

More about the show: http://thechattygardener.com/?p=517