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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Sue Ryder website
• My reflections on this year’s Chelsea Flower Show are here
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